Rebel With A Cause | Hidden Brain Francesca Gino studies rebels. They know how, and when, to break the rules that should be broken. So how can you activate your own inner non-conformist?

You 2.0: Rebel With A Cause

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This is HIDDEN BRAIN. I'm Shankar Vedantam.


VEDANTAM: Every day, listeners reach out to us, asking for research that would help them solve the problems we all face in life. Last summer, we decided to put out a series that would speak to these concerns, highlighting stories about the decisions we make from the mundane to the momentous. Recall the series - You 2.0. And it was so popular, we decided to bring it back this year. It's six weeks of advice about things like jobs...

AMY WRZESNIEWSKI: People for whom the work is a calling tend to be better performers and be far more deeply engaged in it regardless of what the work is.

VEDANTAM: ...Relationships...


ELI FINKEL: We look to our partners to be our sculptors, to help us until we actually grow toward the best, ideal version of ourselves.

VEDANTAM: ...And behavior that we all struggle to change. We'll kick the series off today in a bookstore.


VEDANTAM: A few years ago, social scientist Francesca Gino was browsing the shelves when she came across an unusual-looking book in the cooking section.

FRANCESCA GINO: This recipe book that looked a little bit different. And the title said "Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef."

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GINO: And being Italian, it was very intrigued. And as I flipped through the pages, it became clear that this was not your typical recipe book.


VEDANTAM: The dishes were playful, quirky, improbable. Snails were paired with coffee sauce, veal tongue with charcoal powder. The recipes had titles like how to burn a sardine.

GINO: And, oops, I dropped the lemon tart. There were pictures of beautiful dishes. Who could resist a dish called the crunchy part of the lasagna? Now, if you know anything about Italians, first of all, we have lots of rules when it comes to cooking. And second, we really cherish our traditional dishes, especially because they've been passed on for generations.

VEDANTAM: But this chef, one of the most successful in the world, couldn't resist circling back to one big existential question.

GINO: Why is it that we cook the dish in this way?


VEDANTAM: Why is it that we cook the dish in this way? It's the kind of question Francesca loved. As a professor at Harvard Business School, she has spent most of her career studying nonconformists - specifically, people who break the rules and end up in trouble. But now, standing at the bookstore, she wondered, when can defying norms lead to innovation? Can letting go of tradition lead to the most sublime examples of creative thinking? To find out, she got in touch with the man behind the cookbook, the so-called Jimi Hendrix of Italian cooking, Massimo Bottura.

GINO: After a few conversation, he said, look; if you really want to understand the business, you've got to come to Modena. And I was like, of course.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GINO: Why say no to an invitation to a three-Michelin-star restaurant? I'm on my way.


VEDANTAM: This week, we'll follow Francesca on her mission to understand the minds of successful nonconformists. Her book about this quest is called "Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life."

GINO: I think we really need to shift our thinking. Rebels are not troublemakers. They're not outcasts. 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.

VEDANTAM: How to be a rebel - this week on HIDDEN BRAIN.


GINO: So I showed up at the restaurant for my first day with my notebook and basically was given an apron. For the entire day, I was put to work in the front of the house as a server. And again, it was an amazing experience because I had no qualification. I clearly didn't know what I was doing. I made a lot of mistakes. But that was just an example of doing things a little bit differently.

VEDANTAM: So, of course, if you're a smart chef, the one thing you don't do is bring an amateur into your three-Michelin-star restaurant and ask her to start serving the dishes. I can just imagine all the ways that that could go wrong. Did it?

GINO: That is exactly what was going through my head as I was making mistakes from putting the very carefully arranged dishes down onto the table. There are very specific ways in which the dish gets arranged so that you get the right anticipation of what the dish is going to be about as you eat it. And throughout the day, the team members who were working with me in the front of the house were just helping me. And when I was making mistakes, they were very subtly trying to correct, so they were adjusting the plate, or if I brought to a table the wrong utensils, they would show up...


GINO: ...And somehow bring another set that was the right set for the type of dish that was being served.

VEDANTAM: So I understand that if I were to visit the restaurant, I might sometimes see Massimo Bottura outside, unloading produce from the trucks or sweeping the pavement. He doesn't seem like someone who stands on airs.

GINO: He's very much into the trenches. One of the first thing that he does when he shows up at the restaurant in the morning is to put his white chef's coat on, and then he does go outside with a broom and sweep the streets. And you're there looking at him, and the sous chef and the people working in the restaurants are there looking at him, and you ask the question, why is it that he's doing that? But the second question that you ask yourself is, why is it that I'm not doing it? And so you're feeling motivated to take on roles and activities that are roles that are not scripted because of where you sit or where you work in the restaurant. It's very refreshing.

VEDANTAM: And, of course, he actually tries to bring this approach to the food that he's making, as well. I want you to listen to this clip of music because you say the chef actually asked his staff to build a dish based on this song.


LOU REED: (Singing) Holly came from Miami, Fla., hitchhiked her way across the USA, plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she. She says, hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side. Said, hey, honey, take a walk on the wild side.

VEDANTAM: So what was going on, Francesca? How do you make a dish based on a song?

GINO: It was a one of the many ways that Massimo Bottura inspires the people working in the kitchen and really asks them to bring out their own contribution and their own voices. So you would see him walk into the kitchen and say, Lou Reed - walk through the outside - or a different name of a song or a different poem or the name of a phrase of something that he was reading recently or the name of a piece of art that he saw at an art show.

And what he's trying to do is asking people to think about how that song or how that piece of art inspired them to come up with their own dish. And what he's trying to do at the very core is making sure that people don't show up at work and somehow, they leave their identity at the door, but rather, they show up, and they're being who they are; they're bringing their ideas forward, their contributions forward, independent of their background, their nationalities or how much training they have.

VEDANTAM: And when you spoke to the staff at the restaurant, what did they say the role of the chef was in inspiring them? Did they actually agree that these techniques were actually bringing out the best in them?

GINO: What the staff said, which is really interesting, is that Massimo is the type of leader who never says, I, I, I. It's always about the we. He describes the restaurant as a crew or as a ship as - in fact, he often talks about being on a pirate ship. And sometimes, the waters out there are going to be turbulent but for the very fact that we are going to bring out our individual contributions, but we're going to do so being aware that we are part of a team. No matter how turbulent the sea is, we're going to succeed. And people do feel very inspired by the way he leads the restaurant.


VEDANTAM: Here's another thing that makes Massimo a rebel. He asks a lot of questions about why things are the way they are. For Francesca, a fearless curiosity is at the heart of rebel talent.


GINO: Bottura opened up a restaurant by asking the question, why not? He had no experience in running a restaurant, let alone cooking, because he didn't go to culinary school. He was in law school. He was there for two years as a way to stick to what his father wanted. And then he didn't enjoy it. And when his brother - one of his brothers told him about this restaurant that was up for sale, he really asked himself the question, why not? That's curiosity.

We are so often focused on efficiency and getting things done. We have a very long to-do list. But what that often comes at the cost of is allowing us to explore the way we used to when we were a very little kid, and that came very naturally to us. So I see too many leaders who focus so much on efficiency that curiosity shut down in people. And that's too bad because curiosity leads to all sorts of great results and great outcomes.

VEDANTAM: There's a tension that runs through much of the book, and the tension is the tension between expertise and experimentation. And I want to come back and talk about this over and over again, but I also want to do it through the lens of another story that you explore. You've looked at the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, better known as Captain Sully. He was at the controls of U.S. Airways flight 1549. The plane had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York. A flock of birds flies into the plane. I want to play you a bit of tape from the cockpit recorder.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Cactus 1549, turn left plane 270.

CHESLEY SULLENBERGER: This is Cactus 1539. Hit birds. We've lost thrust on both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia.

VEDANTAM: Captain Sully radios air traffic controllers in New York, using the call sign Cactus 1539. The plane is descending at a terrifying rate. The controller's try to figure out what to do.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sorry to stop your departure. It's got an emergency returning.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: 1529 - he - bird strike. He lost all engine. He lost the thrust in the engine, so he's returning immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Cactus 1529 - which engines?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He lost thrust in both engines, he said.


VEDANTAM: Captain Sully asked for landing options, but he quickly decides none of them will work.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Cactus 1529, turn right 280. You can land runway one at Teterboro.

SULLENBERGER: We can't do it.

VEDANTAM: And then...


SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I'm sorry, say it again, Cactus.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: 212 4718 - I don't know. I think he said he was going to the Hudson.


VEDANTAM: Landing a plane in the Hudson River - Francesca, you describe this incident as a striking example of rebel talent. Why?

GINO: If you think about the situation that Captain Sully was under, most of us would go to the obvious answer. We are under a lot of (laughter) pressure. We have no time. We are really stressed. And what our mind would do very naturally is to narrow our way of thinking. But if you read the accident reports or if you were to talk to Sully, you would understand that what he did instead was to consider options. He kept asking himself what it is that I could be doing.

And in a place where most people would close their mind, he kept his mind open. Rather than going to the obvious answer of landing to the nearest airport, he thought creatively about the problem and came up with this idea of landing in the Hudson River. So that's what rebels are all about - people who rather than just following the script or just following what they've learned in their training, they stay open-minded.

They look at the problem from a very different perspective no matter how much time they have to think about it, and then they creatively solve the problem. Captain Sully had 208 seconds by the time he discovered that he had no thrust in the engine and the time he ditched the plane in the Hudson River. That's true rebel talent.

VEDANTAM: One of the things, again, the story reveals to me is this tension between expertise and experimentation. So if you have expertise but you're not willing to experiment, you become predictable. You become boring. But if you experiment without having expertise, you know, that can be amateurish. If you asked me to land a plane in the Hudson River, it's going to end in disaster. So there's something that happens when you combine expertise with experimentation. That's where the magic is.

GINO: Exactly. One of the things that many people might not know about Captain Sully that I learned when I had the opportunity to interview him is that by the time the accident happened, he had experience flying all sorts of planes. He also served as a volunteer in teams that look at prior accidents and try to understand what it is that had happened. So he had so much experience once he was in that dire situation.


GINO: And, yeah, one of the things that is true about him is that every time he walked on a plane, he asked himself the question, what it is that I could learn? How is it that this could be different? He had that type of intellectual humility that kept him open-minded despite the fact that he was accumulating throughout his career a lot of experience. That's what often we miss out on. We gain experience. And by gaining experience and knowledge, we believe that we all have the right answer. And we don't stay humble. We don't have that type of intellectual humility that keep us focused on what's left to learn rather than what it is that we know already.


VEDANTAM: Captain Sully and Massimo Bottura tried daring things and achieved extraordinary results. It's easy to admire them, but why is it so hard to be like them? It turns out a curious psychological roadblock often gets in the way.


VEDANTAM: We're talking about successful rebels, people who defy the status quo and produce creative breakthroughs. We've seen how this worked with Captain Sully and chef Bottura. So why are people like this so rare? Why do so many of us find it hard to channel our inner Bottura? You might think the problem is we're not experts. We're not skilled chefs or great pilots. But in fact, the problem is often the opposite. We know too much.


GINO: My colleagues and I were fascinated by this idea that experience could be costly because in a lot of our classes, we're actually - they're (laughter) telling our students that they should gain knowledge, that information is power, that experience is important.

And so we explored this in a dataset of millions of data points on how cardiologists behave in their surgery when they do open-heart surgeries. And what was interesting is that we could explore what happened to these cardiologists and their behavior after the Food and Drug Administration put out an announcement that, if I were to simplify, basically told them that the way they were using the technology in their surgery was not good for patients. And what we found in the data that was striking is that the more experience the surgeon had, the less likely they were to change their behavior.

That means that, as you were suggesting, when we gain experience, often we feel like the expert, and we think that we know better, even when we hear information or when we see evidence that speaks to the fact that we're wrong. And so having that learning mindset as we're gaining experience is so, so important.

VEDANTAM: And of course that's difficult to do precisely because once you know something, you ask yourself, why should I go back to becoming a beginner? You describe a very interesting study that was done out of Columbia University looking at guitar players and one way that expert guitarists could learn to once again think like beginners. Tell me about that study.

GINO: This is a study by Ting Zhang. And she was fascinated by this idea that once you are an expert, it's very difficult to look at problems with the eyes of a novice. And so one way she thought she could address this very issue is by asking expert to relive the experience of being a novice. So in one of her studies, she recruited experienced people who played guitar.


VEDANTAM: She asked some of them, the control group, to play as they would on a typical day. Of course they sounded great.


VEDANTAM: She asked the others to play a song with their non-dominant hand. Lefties played with their right hand. Right-handed people played with their left hand. It instantly made them feel like beginners again.


GINO: The experience is very humbling because you're sort of reminded of what it is that you knew and didn't know as you started. And when she compared the advice that these people were giving to others who were interested in learning how to play the guitar, the advice was much more helpful when it came to the second group of people rather than the group of people who played the guitar as you would usually do.

VEDANTAM: As I'm hearing you tell me about the guitar study, it reminds me of something else you have in the book, this insight that in many fields, the people who are the innovators are often not the people who've been in those fields for extended periods of time, that it's often the newcomers to a field who have just about enough information to have mastered the rules but have not spent so much time in the culture that they've become hidebound.

These are the people who are actually able to take the culture and move it in new directions. You talk about the role of how this works in science. There have been people who've tried to solve scientific problems by inviting people who are not necessarily science experts but people who are outsiders.

GINO: It's quite interesting to think about the fact that probably all of us have had at some point in our lives or another a moment in which we were trying to tackle a problem where we felt we were the expert, but we were stuck, and we were not able to come up with a solution. And what is interesting is that when we in fact bring in people who might not have the right expertise, they're going to look at the problem from a very different perspective. And that type of difference in perspective, in opinions, in the way you're looking at and analyzing the problem can be quite powerful in helping you find a solution.

And there are companies out there that in fact have used this insight and created businesses - like, Eli Lilly would be one of them - where when there are very difficult challenges, they put them out there such that not only the people with the right expertise might want to tackle the problem, but all others - the people who might not have the right expertise - can chime in. And often the solutions come exactly from those people.

It's a good reminder that expertise, while wonderful, creates potential problems if we use it as a way of saying, I know the answer; I'm the expert. You look at the problem too narrowly, usually only from one perspective (laughter), and it's our own perspective. And instead having this learning mindset, bringing in novices into the problem allows us to now look at the situation from many different angles and viewpoints.

VEDANTAM: Of course this speaks to the idea of the value of diversity. I think that's one of the insights that I'm getting from what you just said. Having a mix of people in the room who look at things from different perspectives could just be inherently valuable.

GINO: Having people who look at the problem from very a different perspective is in fact a key to solving tough problems. But the reality is that many of us don't want to be challenged. It's so much easier to go through life, whether at work or at home, for that matter, with people that just nod their heads and say, yep, I agree with you. But rebel leaders and rebel employees are people who really try to surround themselves with people who think differently and with people who do challenge them.


VEDANTAM: I asked Francesca about another rebel she mentions in her book. You might be familiar with her work in movies such as "Selma," an account of a series of famous civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965.


DAVID OYELOWO: (As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) That means protest. That means march.


OYELOWO: (As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) That means disturb the peace. That means jail. That means risk. And that is hard.

VEDANTAM: And you say that her story reveals another really important idea when it comes to rebel talent, which is the importance of being vigilant to stereotypes, to recognize that stereotypes can actually serve as a kind of straitjacket that prevents us from thinking creatively.

GINO: In all sorts of spheres of life we are affected by stereotypes. Or more generally, we accept social roles that others have passed on to us. And the story of Ava DuVernay is a beautiful one because she just doesn't do that. And this comes from a person who decided to go to filmmaking later in her career. She was doing a different job, and then she said, I'm going to switch and enter this job.

And in the advice that she was receiving from others, everybody was talking about the importance of really being supported by others, reaching out to networks. She didn't have that. And she just started picking up the camera and working on her own movies. And in fact, the first films she created were supported by her own savings.

And then she became known for the work that she was doing, for the fact that she was not accepting the rules of the business, but in a sense, she was working and fighting against them. And it's quite amazing and inspiring as a story.


AVA DUVERNAY: And so for me, I made my first film, my first feature film, when I was 38. So it's never too late. That I...


DUVERNAY: ...I just started from the outside.


VEDANTAM: We've seen how rebels constructively break the rules. They push ahead even when they don't have the support of powerbrokers. And once they achieve success, they continue to think like beginners and go out of their way to learn from those who disagree with them. So how can you activate your inner nonconformist? Stay with us.


VEDANTAM: Today we're talking about rebels, people who break free of social norms and achieve incredible feats of imagination. Why is this something so few of us do? One problem is that we know too much. We become experts in our fields and then fall back on familiar routines. We forget how to see the world with fresh eyes. But it doesn't have to be this way. Francesca Gino says that being a rebel is a skill that all of us can cultivate. Sometimes it takes only small steps. A few years ago, she wondered if getting people to feel comfortable about being uncomfortable could be the first step in activating their inner rebel.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing) Up and down the boulevard, their shadows...

VEDANTAM: She asked students to stand before their friends and classmates and sing "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing) Streetlights, people living just to find emotion.

VEDANTAM: Can you set up the experiment for me, Francesca?

GINO: I'm putting my hand in my hair as I was reminded when I was running this study. This was a study that was inspired by the notion that when we break rules, when we break away from what others - peoples expect of us, we feel a sense of confidence. And so to test that, I brought undergraduates to the lab, and I asked them to engage in the task that you just heard (laughter) - stand up in front of a video with a microphone and in front of other participants watching you singing "Don't Stop Believing." That was one the songs.

And some of the participants did just that. But some others were asked to wear a bandana as they were singing, something that they told me made them uncomfortable. And then I was interested in seeing whether the anxiety and stress that they experienced during the task and their level of confidence in addition to their performance was going to be different in these two different conditions.

And it was both looking at physiological measure of stress but also their self-reported measures in answering the question of how confident they felt. People who were wearing the bandana while they were singing in front of their peers felt more confident, felt less stress.


JOURNEY: (Singing) Don't stop believing. Hold onto that feeling. Streetlights, people...

GINO: So despite the fact that they thought they would feel more uncomfortable and that it would be harder for them, the fact that they were wearing their bandana, something that the peers didn't expect, was actually helpful to them. And this is not just their feelings and their physiology. When you look at the performance in terms of how much they stay on tune, since the karaoke was recording that objectively, they did better.

VEDANTAM: So there's a paradox here because in the one case, you're asking one set of students to sing the song, which is clearly difficult, and especially before your friends in a classroom, it's difficult to do. But the second group is being asked to do something even more difficult. You're asking them to sing the song and also wear this nonconforming, you know, headdress. And you would think that the second group would do worse, but you found exactly the opposite.

GINO: Exactly. Oftentimes, we think that breaking rules is going to lead to worse outcomes and is going to make us feel uncomfortable. And it does to a certain extent, but it then turns into confidence. And that confidence translates in better performance. It is paradoxical, but it's one of the big lessons in being rebelliousness. It does pay off.

VEDANTAM: I understand that you've discovered this about yourself, as well. You've run experiments of a sort where you try on the effects of different kinds of footwear and the effects this has on your audiences.

GINO: One time, I was asked to teach two classes - the same class - back to back. And in each class, I had 110 executives. And since I was teaching the same content across the two classes, what I thought I could do is change my shoes in between the two classes, and that's exactly what I did. So picture this professor dress upped (ph) in a really nice suit. And for the first class, I was wearing formal leather shoes, probably what the students expected from a HBS professor or a professor in general teaching an exec ed. But for the second class, I changed out my leather shoes for a pair of red sneakers. And it was interesting to walk to class. My colleagues were giving me this strange look, thinking, what it is that she's doing? And I was going to teach my second class.

And at the end of each of the two classes, I gave the executives a little survey. And in the survey, I was asking them question like, how much do you think I charge for my consulting? How much influence do you think I have at HBS as a professor? How often do you think I publish in a practitioner-oriented magazine like Harvard Business Review? And what was interesting is that these are measures that capture how much influence the student thought I had. And what the survey results showed is that they had higher respect - they thought of me as a more influential person when I taught them the same content just wearing red sneakers.

VEDANTAM: So, of course, people listening to this are going to go out and get red sneakers and wear bandanas to work tomorrow because that's what you're saying is going to get them taken more seriously.

GINO: I recently did a training for a company around the issues of rebel talent, and the people who invited me out were all in a team wearing red sneakers, and they got a lot of compliments and questions throughout the day. So yes, that could be one of the lessons learned out of this research.


VEDANTAM: Another way we can all get better at breaking the rules is to stay mindful of the things happening around us. Sometimes we're so focused on the job at hand that we fail to see how the situation might afford us opportunities to demonstrate leadership and authenticity. Maurice Cheeks had such an opportunity on April 25, 2003, during the NBA playoffs. Maurice was coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, and his team was down 2-0 in the series. It was a high-stakes moment.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And now to honor America and salute the men and women serving our country with our national anthem...

VEDANTAM: Twenty thousand excited basketball fans are in the Rose Garden in Portland. The crowd falls silent as a nervous-looking 13-year-old girl walks towards the microphone.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Please welcome, as voted by you, the fans, our winner of the Toyota Get the Feeling of a Star (ph) promotion, Natalie Gilbert.


NATALIE GILBERT: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see...

VEDANTAM: At first, things go well. Natalie looks confident, relaxed.


NATALIE: (Singing) ...What so proudly we hailed at the star's light...

GINO: And as you can hear...


NATALIE: (Singing) Stars...

GINO: She is making a mistake. She's looking for her father to get some support.

VEDANTAM: The crowd freezes in the way people freeze when they know someone is about to horribly embarrass themselves.

GINO: And then somebody shows up to help her.

VEDANTAM: It's Maurice Cheeks. At a moment when you might think that all his attention would be focused on his team and their chances in the game, Maurice has the presence of mind to realize that a child is in trouble. He has a daughter about Natalie's age. He rushes up to stand beside her. He drapes an arm around her and says, come on, come on.


MAURICE CHEEKS: Come on, come on, come on. (Singing) Starlight's last dream...

NATALIE: (Singing) Star's light...

CHEEKS: (Singing) Last dreaming.

NATALIE: (Singing) ...Last gleaming.

VEDANTAM: Natalie hesitates. She doesn't know this stranger in the gray suit who has come up to stand by her side. But Maurice Cheeks is now singing, and Natalie is lifted along.


NATALIE GILBERT AND MAURICE CHEEKS: (Singing) ...We watched were so gallantly streaming. And the rockets' red glare...

VEDANTAM: Natalie looks confident again. Her voice soars. And then something happens in the stadium. Thousands of fans, the players, they see what Maurice has done, and now everyone is singing.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) ...Does that star-spangled banner...

VEDANTAM: It is...


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) ...Yet...

VEDANTAM: ...Triumphant.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) ...Wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave.


GINO: I often use the video clip in class. And then the question that I ask after the clip is, does this guy have a good voice? And he doesn't. And what is interesting is that it took him no time to walk in and help. He made himself vulnerable in front of 20,000 fans and millions of viewers from home. That's what rebels do. They are not worried about what others are thinking, but they make themselves vulnerable in a way that gain them respect from those around them.

VEDANTAM: There's something infectious about authenticity.

GINO: There is. Authenticity is contagious. Once we see people making themselves vulnerable, rather than judging them negatively, we actually respect them, and we ask ourselves questions about what is it that we're covering up? We should be more willing to be authentic, as well, and bring ourselves forwards as we interact with others.

VEDANTAM: One of the things that makes this book so interesting, Francesca, is that you spent so much of your career exploring the pitfalls of breaking the rules. And, of course, this is standard fare for many academics. We've had, you know, co-authors of yours like Dacher Keltner and Dan Ariely on the show talking about unethical behavior, the risks of power. You know, powerful people often feel they can break the rules, act with impunity. In some ways, it makes sense that many of us are nervous about rule-breaking because we've seen the consequences of rule breakers. And lots of times, breaking the rules doesn't lead to good consequences.

GINO: Fundamentally, breaking rules and being rebellious means leaving what's comfortable and known and familiar. And so people perceive it as risky business. But what the book hopefully teaches us, or at least in looking at the story of these rebels, what I've learned is that you might feel uncomfortable at first, but really, it does pay off. We are more confident when we're breaking rules. We also are much more engaged in the activities that we are working on, and we also end up with better, more trusting relationships. So there is a lot of goodness that comes from rule-breaking. But we do need to shift our thinking. It is rule-breaking that is constructive, not rule-breaking that is destructive. So when I think about a lot of the years that I spent looking at cheating and why is it that people steal and what organizations could do about it, that's rule-breaking that is destructive. But the type of rule-breaking that we are talking about now, though risky or uncomfortable, it's rule-breaking that leads to positive change.


VEDANTAM: I'm wondering if the distinction is as simple as that, though. Isn't it possible that, in some ways, people who break the rules can, in fact, go over the edge? I remember visiting Facebook many years ago, and there were posters on the walls saying, you know, move fast and break things. And Facebook, of course, was an enormous rebel success story in Silicon Valley. But increasingly, a lot of people feel the company has gone too far, that it's broken too many rules, that it's actually run afoul of what we think a company should be doing, even on questions of national security and democracy. And I understand the point you're making - it would be nice if we could easily demarcate the rule breakers who are constructive from the rule breakers who are destructive. But isn't it possible that there is actually a pretty thin line between the two?

GINO: When I think about the various businesses and organizations that I studied as I was working on the book, I've noticed a couple of things that seems to be really important when we think about this thin line. First is the fact that in businesses where people are encouraged to break the rules, the leaders are very clear on the rules that should not be broken, context in which you absolutely need to follow the guidelines or the rules.

So one example that comes to mind is Ariel Investment (ph), a Chicago-based money management firm. If you were to visit the firm, what you would see is that the leaders are really trying to make sure that people are staying open-minded, that they're using all the talents that I talk about in the book. But if you go to certain places, everybody in the firm is going to tell you, there, you got to follow the rules.

So for example, if a letter goes out to a client, everybody knows that the three different people need to look at the letter to make sure that it's clear, that there are no typos, that is - the language is appropriate because otherwise, you would affect the reputation of the firm negatively. That's a rule that everybody knows should not be broken.

So as these examples suggest, there is much clarity around rules that, really, you don't want people to break. And second - and other things that I noticed in businesses that encourage rebelliousness - is the fact that once you trust people to break rules, they seem to have very good judgment. They sort of decide on their feet the situations where you really should be putting your head down and follow the script, rather than using your mind in a creative way to come up with a different solution. So that type of good judgment is something that I've seen in so many different rebels and in so many organizations where people are encouraged to be rebellious.


VEDANTAM: You sometimes describe this as a positive deviance in the book. But, of course, in many companies and organizations, someone who comes along and says, let's do things differently; the way we've been doing things all this time has been wrong - I mean, that person is often seen as a troublemaker.

GINO: Oftentimes, what's different between a troublemaker and a rebel, in the way I think of rebels, is the delivery. Many people, after I was working on the book and they heard about it, asked me to go and watch them in their work because they said, I'm clearly a rebel, but it's not paying off for me. And so in a couple of cases, I did go, and I was watching them as they were interacting with their colleagues. And the elements of rebelliousness were there, but the delivery was wrong. So they were coming across as arrogant. If they were in a discussion and they thought that the discussion needed to go in a different direction, rather than saying, I see the value in your idea, and I think we can also bring to bear a different perspective, they were more shutting down the idea, letting the person know how wrong the idea was prior to bringing forward their ideas. They were the troublemakers. Maybe people are breaking rules just for the sake of breaking rules. Rebels instead are really being constructive in their approach in a way that creates positive change.

VEDANTAM: I'm wondering how writing and researching this book has changed your own life. How have you tried to internalize these lessons at home, as a parent, as a partner, as a friend, as a colleague and as a professional?

GINO: In all spheres of life, I've changed my behavior quite a bit, or at least, I find myself pausing and trying to learn how to be an effective rebel. There is a story that I tell in the book about my son, who, at the time, was about 4 1/2 year old. This is a time where curiosity is as its best, so you keep asking why and what-if type of questions. And it's early in the morning. And Alex - is my son name - is having his breakfast - so a bowl of milk with some cereal. And as he's sitting at the counter, stirring his milk, he looks at my husband and says, Daddy, do we still have the coloring bottles that we used to use when we color eggs at Easter? So my husband is sort of looking confused. But he says, yes. And he walks to the cabinet. He opens it up and gets the bottle to Alex and said, Alex, what are you going to do with it? And Alex smiled and said, I'm going to color my breakfast.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

GINO: And you should have seen the face of my husband. He was confused and sort of disappointed. And he looked back at Alex and said, Alex, we don't do that. And Alex, being a 4 1/2-year old boy, said, why not? Very reasonable question. And then my husband, even more confused with Alex's answer, looked at me and said, we don't do that, right? And that was a beautiful moment for me. As we were trying to struggle through this question on whether we do it or we don't do it, Alex opened up the bottle and started to put red coloring in his milk. And all of a sudden, the cereals were happily swimming in pink milk. And it's a perfect example of how often we go through life, and there are rules that we put out there that maybe should be questions. Why is it that milk needs to be white for breakfast? I actually tried it. So I now had pink milk, yellow milk, green milk, and it tastes just the same to me. If anything, you're really smiling (laughter) as you start off your day.


VEDANTAM: Francesca, thank you so much for joining me today on HIDDEN BRAIN.

GINO: Really fun to be talking to you, so thank you.

VEDANTAM: Francesca Gino is a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of "Rebel Talent: Why It Pays To Break The Rules At Work And In Life."


VEDANTAM: This week's show was produced by Laura Kwerel and edited by Tara Boyle. Our team includes Jenny Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu and Adhiti Bandlamudi. Our unsung hero this week is Brin Winterbottom. Brin works on NPR's RAD team, which is both an acronym and a great description for NPR's Research, Archives & Data Strategy team. Brin helps us with research questions both large and small, and she also makes sure that resources like show transcripts are available on our website. Thank you, Brin, for all your help. Next week, our You 2.0 episode is about the place many of us end up spending 80,000 hours of our lives - our jobs. How can we make the most of the jobs we have, even if they're not always ideal?

WRZESNIEWSKI: They were crafting the boundaries of their jobs in ways that we think made the work, for them, more meaningful.


VEDANTAM: I'm Shankar Vedantam, and this is NPR.

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