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Why rebels and trouble-makers could be good for business

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You’ve a job to fill and you’ve whittled the applicants down to two strong candidates. Both have great CVs and enthusiasm for what you do, but during the interviews one of them left you feeling they might challenge the status quo from time to time. Do you choose the candidate that’s going to slot right in or one of the rebels, sure to shake things up?

If you work in a job that requires a level of creativity – then I’d make a case for hiring one of the rebels. Why? Because mavericks mix things up. They’ll stop your ideas from becoming safe. They’ll make others in the team fight harder to defend their best ideas – t hey will keep you on your toes. It’s impossible to know if rebels will have creative ideas better than the rest of the team, but it’s likely they’ll force everyone to think differently. That’s not a bad thing when some offices struggle to do any creative thinking at all. In what’s been called ‘creative clone’ syndrome we can fall into the trap of hiring people that we like, and that are like us, but it can result in a sea of bland ideas.

The fact is that if you want your ideas to resonate with your target audience, consumers or customers and stop people in their tracks, you might need to rip up the rulebook. You need a healthy dose of rebellion, which is one of the creative elements I look at in a chapter about the characteristics of creative people in my new book, In Your Creative Element. My goal was to explain (based on 20 year’s experience and studying creativity and innovation for two years) how everyone could be more creative. Rebellion is one of 62 creative elements that make up by Periodic Table of Creative Elements and the framework for the book.

In the book, I interview Rupert and Claire Callender, the husband and wife team behind Devon-based The Green Funeral Company. I think they are inspirational: with diverse influences from punk to crop circles they are dynamic and rebels in a highly traditional industry. In short, they had become so disenfranchised by traditional funerals that they wanted to put a firecracker under the existing model.

They say: “We want to challenge absolutely everything about the funeral industry. When we first meet you (the deceased’s family), we are unlikely to be wearing suits. We do not have a fleet of hearses and limousines. We do not employ bearers. We do not consider faux-Victoriana and a mournful expression to be an assurance of respect and dignity. We have buried Generals and Lords, but we approach each funeral as unique.”

I’ve worked in multiple creative businesses during the course of my career and I’ve come to appreciate just how vital rebels are if you want to avoid stagnation. While it’s true they can sometimes be painful to work with, I’ve seen dozens of examples of mavericks forcing people to contemplate new paths and wild new ideas.

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Contrary to initial fears you may have, they can add dynamism to teams – once you understand what’s driving them. I’d love to have had Rupert and Claire Callender on one of my creative teams, or a James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog beer – a self-proclaimed ‘business punk’ who uses unorthodox and eye-catching stunts to generate media coverage. Brewdog uses stunts to generate media coverage and outshout its competitors. These include “packaging a 55 per cent alcohol beer in stuffed road kill animals, parking a tank outside the Bank of England, employing a dwarf to petition for a two-thirds pint measure and naming a drink after the drugs cocktail that killed Hollywood star River Phoenix.”

Being a maverick is probably one of the most clichéd notions of what it means to be a creative individual and is an accepted norm in art, fashion and music. And in business, rebellion can drive campaigns and ideas that change the world. Even in a small business, the out-there ideas of those who think differently can make a big difference. If you don’t want to hire a maverick, then a safer way for you to embrace a little rebellion in the workplace is to ask yourself what rules or stereotypes exist in your industry that you could break in order to shake things up (in a positive way). Disruption has been the marketing buzzword of 2016 and it doesn’t happen without rebels.

Thinking like this could be the source of some groundbreaking new ideas. If you want to formalise it, the next time you get the team together try having five-minutes of “creative anarchy”. Which of the team’s wildest, craziest, most left-field ideas give you something to work with?

Here’s why it’s worth the effort: before James Dyson came along, everyone already knew how to make a vacuum cleaner. Dyson did too – he simply decided he was going to do it differently and now he’s worth $4.7bn. You might not have the advertising budget or the resources of your bigger competitors, but you don’t have to outspend them if you can out-think them.

Claire Bridges is author of In Your Creative Element, which can be brought at KoganPage – highly practical and packed with case studies and tips from creative experts and organisations including the NHS, United Nations, Twitter, Punchdrunk, Sky Media and Paddy Power as well as some of the world’s most successful advertising and PR agencies. 

Image: Shutterstock

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