Book Review: ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Matthew Syed

Rebel Ideas: About the Book

I’d read two previous books from Matthew Syed, The Greatest and Black Box Thinking. Both leaving a lasting impression. Having recently been promoted to a people management role for the first time, I wanted to use my time away for some personal development. After spotting Syed’s latest offering, Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking on the shelf, it seemed like a good match.
Syed’s writing style is natural, easily digestible and always insightful. He clearly operates at a different level to most. Whether he’s in journalist, interviewee or podcast host mode, one of his talents is to break down complex subjects, making it clear and relevant. After reading Rebel Ideas, I understood the basics of human evolution, need I say more…

Adapting ‘Rebel Ideas’ to Gain New Industry Insight

My favourite feature of Rebel Ideas is the many diverse case studies the author brings to life. The failings of the CIA pre 9/11, an incredible story of deradicalisation in Americas Deep South and the communication error that led to disaster on Everest. These are just some of the fascinating examples Matthew Syed uses to highlight the importance of cognitive diversity.
Early on, Syed discusses his involvement at the Football Association (FA) and the expertise on the advisory board he sat on, most with little or no experience in football or sport. Yet, by embracing insight from different industry and adapting ‘rebel ideas’, they found opportunities to tackle issues that plagued the national team since 1966.

Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed, Book Cover

Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed

Clone Thinking

Syed presents the concept of clone thinking where colleagues from organisations adopt the same mindset. 10 colleagues providing 10 ideas don’t lead to 100 unique ideas. Many will be duplicate. A fresh perspective may look around the collective blind spot. I’ve worked in the same organisation of 40,000 employees for the past 13 years, so this resonated with me. With a newly recruited team, I knew I had to create an environment that embraces ideas.  Yet, most importantly, however, stop them from becoming clones themselves.
Working in a global organisation, I found the study performed on different groups’ observations (one from the USA, one from Japan) of an underwater scene to be particularly thought-provoking. The US group overwhelmingly saw the objects in the video. The group from Japan, however, tended to focus on the context of the video. It turns out, therefore, that our culture and upbringing shape our observations. Consequently, I saw here, on our doorstep was an opportunity to combine different perspectives.
I reflected on how my team and I could find further success by embracing collective insight. On returning home I introduced a workshop that enables learners from across our business to trial and feedback on new training initiatives. Rebel Ideas highlighted the power of many minds and why we should harness even the most left-field ideas.

Final Thoughts

In a creative role such as mine, I’d always felt pressure to have all the answers. A belief that only increased as a people manager. Rebel Ideas makes it clear that by embracing cognitive diversity our chances of success and effectiveness will increase. I now have the tools to do this.


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