There are two kinds of people in the world, those who follow the rules, and those who break the rules. One’s not better than the other, but I do have my own personal preference, and each has its pros and cons.
When I talk about rules, I’m not referring only to rules in the sense of school or military. I’m referring to conventional wisdom and the things we learn in textbooks.
Rebels have the advantage of finding it easy to think outside the box (in fact they can’t help but think outside the box). Their disadvantage is that somehow, they just have to learn the hard way.
They often cannot accept the wisdom of those who came before. That is, afterall, what rules are – someone who came before made the mistake or ran into the problem and then said, “if you want to avoid this mistake or solve this problem, do this and that and don’t do that.”
The benefit of this is that rebels do pioneering work; they come up with breakthroughs; they discover new and better ways of doing things, and eventually everyone does it and the bar is set higher and the human race moves forward.
Another disadvantage that rebels have is that they can often look stupid to the majority, i.e. the people who quickly and easily accept what someone else said is the best way to do things, or conventional wisdom.
So for example, in my post about company policies, I fully expect the majority of people to think to themself, “This is basic, this is elementary. Are you telling me this clown only discovered this now?”
The tendency is for the majority to blindly accept something to be true which isn’t necessarily true, or at least, isn’t necessarily exclusively true.
So that’s one of the disadvantages for rebels. Things which the majority of people have learnt long ago, you haven’t learnt because you were too busy beating a new path to a better end.
I imagine that the majority have it much easier. They are not rebels, they don’t go against the flow, they don’t think outside the box, they adhere to conventional wisdom and so don’t face much resistance.
The disadvantage is that few if any of their ideas are revolutionary, and as such few if any of their ideas have the potential to change the world, or even just their company, or even just their own life.
The advantage is that, by effortlessly accepting and following the conventional path, they tap into the wisdom of those who have already done the hard miles, learnt the lessons and figured out the solutions.
Schools and the corporate world alike don’t take well to rebels. The rebels come in late because they cannot see for the life of them why their bloody boss won’t introduce flexi-time so they don’t have to waste their life away behind the steering wheel of a car. The rebels mess with the code which was working just fine yesterday.
The rebels don’t like the boss because he sits on an expensive leather chair in a cosy office seperate from everyone else, instead of making himself, practically and psychologically, a part of the overall team that is making things happen. “If you want to have an important meeting, have it in the boardroom”, says the rebel.
They don’t follow orders well, yet they are absolutely essential to any organization that wants to be innovative. It may well be that, as big a pain in the ass as they can be, rebels are the key to a company’s very survival.
“Bull!” I hear you say. Well, as I said in the first paragraph of this post, I’m just typing ideas as they churn around in my head, but world-famous rebel (yet fortune 500 consultant and well-respected author) Tom Peters is on my side…
For another example of a very successful guy who has called the bullshit on a long-accepted piece of conventional wisdom see http://blog.asmartbear.com/business-plan.html
If you see yourself as more of a rule-follower: take some risks, consider some silly notion and see if you can make sense out of it. Put some dog crap in your boss’ desk drawer.
If you are a rebel: don’t discard the conventional wisdom outright. Consider it and decide if it might be useful as a base on which to then make improvements. Then tell me to shut up and ignore everything I’ve just said.
If you are in a management position: you can use both rebels and non-rebels to your advantage. Tap into their respective strengths. That’s exactly what Google has done.