A Little Bit of Rebel


Most rebels start small.

At the end of Richard Martin’s wonderful discussion of the power of rebel within organisations there is a reference to starting small. It reminded me that ‘from little things, big things grow’  

Many change agents start out in a small and quite compliant way. They only want to make a little change for the better. They see something that needs fixing and try to fix it. These rebels start out making change for the system. They want to make the system work just a little better.

Systems don’t like little changes. Systems push back. Small fixes are crushed.

At this point, many people seeking change stop discouraged. The rebels go on. Rebels move from a small change to making bigger changes to the system. They start to see that their small problem is a symptom and that changing the system is part of the solution. Now they want to make changes to the system.

Systems don’t like changing. Systems push back. Big changes are opposed.

Many first-time rebels stop at this point. They don’t like the ostracism, the opposition and the risk. Only the dedicated rebels go on. Now the rebels want to fundamentally change the way that the systems in the organisation handles change. They want their organisations to have a better culture, to be more responsive, to be more human and to pursue bigger and more important purposes than purely financial return. These rebels are working for a change of system.

Systems don’t like change. Systems push back. Transformative change is fought. 

The few remaining rebels just keep aiming bigger. Now they step outside the system and connect with others from other systems trying to make similar change. They start to work across organisations, industries and society to learn how to be more effective and more influential in creating responsive and human organisations.

These rebels are changing the world.


How do you help your rare and precious rebels grow faster?

  • Do you have a culture of continuous improvement based on external performance measures that helps your people start the journey of change?
  • Do you have the room for experimentation to try new approaches?
  • Do you have a culture that fosters challenge to the big systems and processes and that supports and rewards the rebels?
  • Do you take time to discuss the culture and systems that lie behind the symptomatic problems that you face repeatedly?
  • How do you connect and engage your rebels, internally and externally, to help them stay the distance in the face of opposition?

Getting credit

It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit – Harry S Truman

Yesterday I discussed the vexed issue of ownership of collaboration. Credit for the successes of collaboration is one other reason people are so keen to own it and also why ownership belongs with the users.

Credit is also a vexed issue for innovation. As Harry Truman notes, giving credit away is often the only way to get something done. Far too many change agents are frustrated that their good ideas are quickly taken for implementation, often without credit or further involvement. Sadly, the great ideas don’t get implemented easily.

Three other challenges come for organisations that run on the concept of credit:

  • Credit debates are rarely factual. Credit is usually a part of a performance management process that is not connected to facts. Debates about credit suggests people are much more concerned with appearances of performance.
  • Credit gets in the way of collaboration. Credit tends to assume there is one creator of every outcome. Collaborative outcomes, like design thinking processes, don’t fit the system
  • Credit is distinct from accountability which is much more important. I would rather know who is taking accountability for delivering something than who would like to plans to claim it.

How can an innovator or change agents deal with issues of credit?

  1. Don’t Play the Game:  There is nothing to gain and a lot to lose playing along, keeping ideas secret and trying to hog or claim credit.
  2. Work Aloud: working aloud enables others to understand what you have been involved in and reduces the risk others misjudge your involvement later.  Working aloud engages stakeholders progressively. Working aloud reinforces accountabilities, because it enables others to know who to follow up.
  3. Move on & Work with Collaborators: The advantage of being oriented to innovation is you know you have more ideas and opportunities ahead of you. Many of those clamouring to gain credit know that they don’t have the luxury. Often they will learn their lesson when they need help on the next round.
  4. Give Credit Where it is Due: Innovation processes can be convoluted with lots of participants inputs, reuse of ideas and evolution to a successful implementation. Recognition at the end is hard.  Make sure you recognise others along the way. You will discover building a fact based culture of recognition will flow back in appropriate recognition of your role.
  5. Take Accountability for the Innovation System: Individual ideas matter less in an organisation. What matters more is to have a functioning system of innovation, a consistent process that delivers a cadence of innovations into the market. Innovators and change agents should be build a system that lets everyone in on innovation