You Say Rebel, I Say Scout!

Our most recent blog post, Only Good Rebels Die Young, set off a great, private conversation on Google+ over the past week. The ideas and reflections were awesome and I would like to share a couple here. Rebels have to play both a Short Game and a Long Game. People differed as to what each “game” consisted of, but generally I think the concept that rebels have to do one set of things in the short term and another set of things for the long-term is spot on. But what does the long term look like in organizations? Is the long term fulfilling the essential mission of the company or is the long term the race to control the company by its senior leaders? If it’s the latter, and it’s my guess that either could be in play depending upon the organization, then the rebel has to deal with one set of issues, such as risk aversion and the desire to avoid accountability. If over the long term the actual fulfillment of  mission is most important, then the rebel’s suggestions will be judged, often harshly, against the imperative to “git the job done.”

Are we Scouts or Pathfinders, and not Rebels? Some of my friends, and I’m sure many others, aren’t really comfortable with the rebel label. They don’t necessarily see themselves in opposition with the organization; they just want to make it better. Perhaps, one noted, Rebels at Work are just people who have the ability to see things differently than the majority in the workplace. There is actually one clear minority in the workplace, according to Myers Briggs tests. These are the intuitive people in general and the introverted intuitives in particular.

Unlike most of the other Myers Briggs attributes, which are distributed more or less evenly in the general population, about 75% of Americans test as sensers and only 25% test as intuitive. (The same breakdown occurs for extroversion/introversion.) I thought that was pretty interesting and so I pursued it further. And almost immediately I ran across this paper: Introverted Intuitives: Managing Diversity in the Workplace. This paper contains boatloads of insight for corporate rebels, scouts, pathfinders, even more perhaps than the literature on Gifted Children and Adults I discovered a couple of weeks ago.

As the author Laurie Nadel notes, introverted intuitives in the workplace have a strong sense of their individualism, strong creative problem-solving abilities, and a desire for autonomy. All intuitives--introverted or extroverted--because of their willingness to rely on what their gut tells them, have the ability, as one of my friends put it in the Google+ discussions, “to find or make a new path for themselves and their organizations that others cannot see.” Nadel suggests that the extroverted intuitive is more likely to be successful in an organizational setting than the introverted intuitive. Although both groups are rare, the introverted intuitives are the most rare, making up only 4% of the population. (That's the number Nadel cites in her monographs. My casual reading suggest they make up a somewhat bigger proportion, but they are still mighty small.) Disclosure: I am a borderline ENFP/INFP although I think what extroversion I do have is a learned behavior.

But to return to my friend’s main point, maybe we're not rebels at all, we’re scouts. The Kit Carsons of the Corporate World. We can see around the corner and sometimes even over the horizon. As I’ve written previously, I don’t really think anyone starts out with the intent to be a Rebel at Work, except perhaps those who have a problem with any concept of authority. Most of us don’t even know we’re scouts; until we find out differently, we assume everyone sees what we see. But it’s the reaction of the organization to our ideas, and our commitment to continue trying to advance them in spite of that reaction, that in the end turns us into rebels. I suppose some scouts never become rebels. Those are probably the extroverted ones!!

It would be great to empirically determine if most self-identified corporate rebels are in fact intuitive. If you don’t know, there are many free Myers Briggs tests online that are generally accurate. I won’t recommend any one in particular but you can just Google the term. If you feel like sharing your results in the comments section, we'd love to hear from you.