Innovation Rebels: tapping into the outliers, mavericks and skeptics

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Chat Date: 
Thu, Aug 04, 2011

The folllowing framing post is by @LoisKelly, Foghound

I love going to innovation conferences. But all the innovators who speak seem to be entrepreneurs. After each conference I wonder why there aren’t more innovators in large organizations – companies, government, education.

Then last year at the BIF-6 innovation conference I heard Carmen Medina, recently retired CIA executive, talk about how she and a small group of other CIA people started nudging that closed and venerable organization into a new perspective for a changing world. This informal band of people called themselves “The Rebel Alliance.”

An internal light bulb flashes so fast and intensely for me that I miss my exit driving home from the conference. Rebels. Why isn’t anyone helping rebels so that they can do good for organizations? All organizations need people who are passionate about making things better. Why do so many organizations ostracize rebels? Rebels are probably the idea people, the change makers, the real innovators of sorts.

 

I sit with these rebel questions for a while as I go on with my work.

My work is helping big companies and non-profits get unstuck and find new answers by tapping into the collective brilliance among their own people. My approach is to bring together all kinds of people in a company to uncover new possibilities. Our workshops use an unstructured structure to get to “ahas.’  Agendas are never completely followed, and outcomes are always completely unexpected because of the unusual yet creative brilliance that emerges from people thinking together in new ways.

During workshops I started noticing an interesting pattern. Many of the most insightful questions and ideas came from people who are considered outsiders – the rebels, outliers, mavericks and skeptics.   Not necessarily the rising stars or the most senior executives, but the often-unassuming outsiders who feel compelled to bring up unusual views and question long-held assumptions. They seem to naturally see things differently.

What is it about rebels, I wonder again. What value do people with these characteristics bring to organizations? Why aren’t their voices heard more? Why do so many companies exile their rebels to corporate Siberia at the very same time they’re trying to make their companies more innovative? Why do so rebels often become disruptive instead of helpful?

To learn more I conducted a research study on rebels, or change agents, as many prefer to be called, and published the results last month.  There’s a lot to talk about from the research. 

One of the most startling findings for me is what I call the 90/30 Conundrum.  More than 90 percent agreed that the way to create a more innovative company is to activate the rebels. BUT, just a third are very satisfied that rebels can provide value in their companies.

 Another interesting finding: rebels don’t innovate for financial incentives or recognition. The number one motivator:  making a difference to their organizations

Discussion questions:

  1. What career advice would you give to rebels so that they provide positive change vs. disruptive dissent?
  2. When people get frustrated in organizations they either check out and become compliant (“Just tell me what to do.”) or they get angry and act out (“We’re mad as hell and aren’t going to deal with this crap any more.”)  What can organizations do to channel energy in positive ways?
  3. How can you train all your people to appreciate rebels for their unique talent vs. labeling them as malcontents?
  4. What can an organization do to attract and support people who see new ideas and are not afraid to change?
  5. What competencies do managers need to lead rebels?

Pre-chat Reading

•      EBook: Rebels at work: Motivated to Make a Difference (see attached)

•      Extreme frustration – compliance or dissent

•      Think Different

Please join the discussion by following the hashtag #innochat on Twitter.com, Thurs., Aug 4 at noon EDT/ 9 PDT.

About Lois Kelly @LoisKelly

Lois Kelly, founder of Foghound and a life-long rebel, helps organizations and leaders get unstuck – finding ways to speed positive change, overcome seemingly impossible challenges, and create stories that inspire people and influence corporate cultures.

Her clients include large global organizations like FedEx, Fidelity Investments, Monster Worldwide, and Hewlett Packard. She is a frequent speaker at business conferences around the world.

A former president of global digital marketing and public relations agencies, Lois is the author of the award winning marketing book, “Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing,” and a little book that has found its niche in hospices, “Be the Noodle: 50 Ways to Be a Courageous, Compassionate, Crazy-Good Caregiver.” 

Lois’ current research is on benevolent corporate rebels – helping leaders evolve their cultures to embrace these truth tellers and innovators -- and helping rebels learn ways to share their ideas in positive vs. destructive ways. 

More about Lois and her work can be found at www.foghound.com.

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