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The Rebel Rules. Daring to be your-self in business.
by Chip Conley
review by Riccardo Paterni

This is a book that would deserve much more attention by media and readers than it has gotten since it was published in 2001. The reason for this?

It is quite simple; the book goes to the core of a key issue: succeeding in what you do with your professional life while being yourself.

Too many times we seem to be bound to live a life in which compromises are unavoidable in order to make it in our work: there is a “system” and we need to rapidly understand it and find ways to fit in even if this fitting in does not bring to us much pleasure nor pride.

Chip Conley is a successful entrepreneur in the hospitality and entertainment business. He has found success by being a rebel according to his definition of the concept: expressing the best of yourself in order to create value and not caring too much about what the rules of the “system” and “standard practices” are. From his perspective being a rebel does not mean to simply systematically fight what is conventional, it means to find out who you really are and put your talents and ideas to work in order to generate concrete value added within ever changing market dynamics. He also points out that “the rebels who make a difference in the long run are those with integrity” and Conley defines integrity in a very practical way “knowing what to do, saying you are doing it and then doing it”.


Vision, passion, instincts and agility (and their balancing act)

Vision, passion, instincts and agility: these are the four key aptitudes that any rebel should discover within, cultivate with method and express in a determined yet balanced and resourceful way. Conley summarizes the concept with an image: your eyes fuel the vision; your hearth the passion; your gut the instincts and your feet the agility.
Vision is what gives us a sense of direction, a way to channel our energy and ideas in order to make a better future for us and other people; passion is the fuel that keeps us going, in order to never run on empty it is essential to focus on the concept of integrity above mentioned and to synchronize who you are, what your values are, and what you do; instincts are represented by the ability to swiftly catch and create opportunities in order to fulfill your vision (Conley makes and interesting point here: while traditional managers are resource-driven - they do what they can with the resources at hand; the rebel managers are opportunity-driven - they don’t let themselves be trapped in their thinking by the boundaries of their resources and this helps them to constantly find opportunities for development and improvement); finally agility concerns our ability to keep our material and immaterial (thoughts, assumptions, certainties) baggage light in order to move rapidly at the pace required by the changes happening around us.

This is the theoretical framework, it flows and it makes sense. The tough practical issue is how to integrate all of these four aptitudes by balancing them, Conley points out: “Few people - rebels or not - posses all four qualities in full measure. Great eyes (vision) but awkward feet (agility) will lead to embarrassing organizational moments. A big heart (passion) but a confused gut (instinct) means a lovable but indecisive leader. A rebel out of alignment can create dis-ease not only in the rebel’s body but also throughout the organization. Just like any athlete, the rebel may favor certain body parts. But she can also develop her abilities, and when she combines al of four aptitudes in choreographed manner, the result is pure poetry”.

“The rebel’s job is to make the complex simple”

This sentence captures the essence of Conley’s message. The balancing act of the rebel’s four core aptitudes should be geared towards this greater all encompassing goal: simplify! Make things that appear impossible and complex reachable and achievable; do that by working on your perceptions, on identifying, refocusing and channeling your sense of fear and uncertainty. Being a rebel means, above all, to have the courage to know oneself, what we really care for and value beyond all what society defines as important and relevant. Learning to recognize the own values and putting them into practice at work becomes the fuel of the rebel’s energy. The rebel faces with focus and determination the barriers that she comes to recognize either slow down or block the expression of the mix of vision, passion, instincts and agility.

Conley makes a very interesting connection by relating all of this to a key finding by James Collins and Jerry Porras that studied several American companies for their book ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’ “It is better to understand who you are than where you’re going in today’s unpredictable world - for where you are going will almost certainly change... The crucial variable is not the content of a company’s ideology, but how deeply it believes and expresses it in all that it does”.The book is rich of practical ideas and examples on how to achieve this. Action, real action “rebels work hard and play hard” is the common denominator of the rebel’s aptitudes.


Do companies need rebels?

This question comes to mind while reading this book. Companies need rebels if they start to realize that they are struggling to keep up with the changes happening in markets and society and mostly if they come to realize that the competitive edge is not simply in keeping up with the changes but trying to lead them! Fostering a culture of rebels, according to Conley’s ideas and practices, requires a strong determination to truly engage in a positive and constructive way the experiences, thoughts, passions and observations of the people. Managing a company made of rebels it is certainly much tougher than managing a company made of people whom main goal is just to fit in within the “system” at keep it running; at the same time it can very well be the only long term way forward to survival and success.

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