How To Break The Rules | Hidden Brain Francesca Gino studies rebels — people who practice "positive deviance" and achieve incredible feats of imagination. They know how, and when, to break the rules that should be broken. So how can you activate your own inner non-conformist? This week, we ponder the traits of successful rebels as we revisit our 2018 conversation with Gino.

You 2.0: Rebel With A Cause

You 2.0: Rebel With A Cause

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A lone fish swimming in the opposite direction to the school.
Greg Newington/Getty Images

A few years ago, social scientist Francesca Gino was browsing the shelves at a bookstore when she came across an unusual-looking book in the cooking section: Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura.

The recipes in it were playful, quirky — and improbable. Snails were paired with coffee sauce, veal tongue with charcoal powder. Francesca, who is Italian, says remixing classic recipes like this is a kind of heresy in Italian cooking.

"We really cherish the old way," she says.

But Bottura — one of the most influential chefs in the world — couldn't resist circling back to one, big question: Why do we have to follow these rules?

It's the kind of question Gino loves. A professor at Harvard Business School, she has spent much of her career studying non-conformists; specifically, people who break the rules, and end up in trouble. But now, standing in the bookstore, she wondered whether letting go of norms and traditions can sometimes lead to the most sublime examples of creative thinking.

This week, we'll follow Gino on her mission to understand the minds of successful rule breakers. What are their secrets? And how can we discover our own rebel talent?

"I think we really need to shift our thinking," says Gino. "Rebels are people who break rules that should be broken. They break rules that hold them and others back, and their way of rule breaking is constructive rather than destructive. It creates positive change."

How to be a rebel, this week on Hidden Brain.

Additional Resources:

Francesca Gino's book is called Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules in Work and in Life.

Read about Gino's 2013 study on "the red sneakers effect," which finds that deviating from social norms about dress codes can boost your status in the eyes of strangers.

Read Ting Zhang's 2015 study on how experts can overcome the "curse of knowledge" and rediscover the feeling of being a novice.

Watch basketball coach Maurice Cheeks help Natalie Gilbert sing the national anthem, despite his poor singing voice. Gino says rebel leaders earn respect by showing their vulnerabilities.


Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Laura Kwerel, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Jennifer Schmidt, and Thomas Lu. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.