This Rebels at Work community is for corporate rebels to share experiences, insights and advice with other rebels and aspiring rebels.  By rebels we’re talking about those people who feel compelled to create ways to improve, change, and innovate. They are brave (or foolhardy) enough to stand against the prevailing mindset of the organization and argue for a better way.  The hope is that rebels can find courage and ideas to be more successful, and executives can see why their success depends on encouraging rebels.

What got this started

Bad Rebels Good Rebels
Break Rules Change Rules
Complain Create
Assertions Questions
Me-focused Mission-focused
Anger Passion
Pessimist Optimist
Energy-sapping Energy-generating
Alienate Attract
Problems Possibilities
Vocalize problems Socialize opportunities
Worry that Wonder if
Point fingers Pinpoint causes
Doubt Believe
Social loner Social

This story started in October 2010 at  the  BIF6 conference  when I (Lois Kelly) heard  Carmen Medina, the just-retired deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, talk about how she was part of an informal Rebel Alliance of employees at the CIA, and how challenging assumptions helped two rebels at the agency create the Intellipedia, a groundbreaking approach to intelligence that was awarded a Service to America national medal. (It also helped that Carmen was a high-ranking executive who provided them advice and support. Rebels can thrive when they have good bosses.)

As a lifelong rebel, I was immediately struck that an executive would have the guts to help rebels.

I also began wondering how innovation and change happens in big organizations. You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. Rebelliousness and restlessness are accepted qualities of entrepreneurs. But what about people on the inside of big organizations? How do they blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?

I did a quantitative research study in 2011 to try to find some answers to these questions. The research found that rebels provide huge value to organizations, but most corporate cultures make it difficult for rebels to provide that value.

As part of our day jobs, Carmen and I started speaking at conferences, Tweeting and writing about rebels and heretics. People who identify as rebels, heretics, renegades and mavericks started sharing their personal stories. The stories have been both fascinating and tragic.  What some people can accomplish with determination and without “official” approvals is amazing. That so many have been penalized, or even fired, for trying to make changes that matter is deeply troubling.  Cultures of fear seem to be more pervasive than ever before, eroding organizations at the very time organizations are looking for new ideas and creative talent.

We decided to start this site and invite others to join us in sharing their stories and ideas. Perhaps together we can help more rebels find more ways to succeed. And help more corporations and big organizations succeed because of their rebels. Welcome.

The huge, hidden value of rebels

  • Call out problems others are afraid to.92%
  • Challenge ineffective sacred cow practices.92%
  • Willing to be the first to try new approaches.88%
  • See new ways to solve problems.86%
  • Bring outside ideas into the organization.86%
  • Have ideas to improve products/services.78%
  • Detect emerging issues early.67%
  • Have a good pulse on what customers want.43%