Mark Pearl


The book started off badly for me, and as I progressed through it, it got better. The first two chapters didn’t resonate with me. The authors have a very ‘boss’ centric view. In the organizations I work in, we don’t have that boss centric hierarchy. That said, the book has a few gems and is definitely worth a read. If you are interested in changing an organization, Rebels at Work gives you a good all round approach on how to ‘safely’ tackle change. See my notes on each chapter below.

Chapter 1 - Good Rebels, Great Work

Didn’t resonate to much with me

Chapter 2 - What makes me a rebel at work

Didn’t resonate to much with me

Chapter 3 - Gaining Credibility

Risk vs Uncertainty

Risk means you have some knowledge of what could go wrong. There are known factors to research & assess.
Uncertainty means what might happen is unknowable; you haven’t done this before and don’t know how it might turn out.

Gain credibility by separating risk from uncertainty.

  • Be open about risks connected with your idea and describe how you plan to research & manage them.
  • Be forthright about what is uncertain and unknowable and what can be put in place to quickly respond and adapt.

Building Trust

Building trust comes down to:

  • Doing what you say you’re going to do
  • Being genuinely committed to helping
  • Helping others without expecting anything in return
  • Admitting mistakes and providing early warnings when you see that things are unlikely to go as planned
  • Not gossiping or saying hurtful things
  • Being respectful of others (getting to meetings on time, meeting deadlines, answering time sensitive email promptly)

Chapter 4 - Navigating the Organizational Landscape

Five core skills in negotiating

The five core skills in negotiating according to Robert Fisher and Samuel Williston of the Harvard Negotiation Project:

  1. Empathy
  2. Making people feel personally connected to you
  3. Showing how the idea preserves or expands the other person’s autonomy
  4. Acknowledging the other person’s status
  5. Making people feel that they have a say and are playing a meaningful role in the negotiations

Don’t forget about the people

The more you know how things—and people—tend to work, the better the relationships you can develop.

Organizations are made up of people. All change affects people. You may have a strategy that could double sales, cut costs by a third, and win industry admiration. Nonetheless, it still affects people. To be successful, figure out how people feel and what anxieties or fears your idea might provoke, and then factor that into how you frame, socialize, and implement your idea. Organizations don’t change; people do. “Leadership” doesn’t say yay or nay to an idea; people do.

Chapter 5 - Communicating Your Ideas

Key points to remember when communicating your idea

  1. Show what’s at stake - To get people’s attention, frame your idea in terms of what people care about. Show how the idea relates to what they want.
  2. Paint a picture of what could be - Emotions get people to consider an idea and influence decisions. Paint a picture of how your idea creates a better situation. Expose the gap between how things work today and how they could work. Make the status quo unappealing.
  3. Show that the idea can work, Highlight what it will take to be successful and where the greatest risks lie. Show the milestones along the way. This demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and thought through the risks, uncertainties, and practicalities. People support ideas that they think can work.
  4. Be positive and pithy - Show enthusiasm, but don’t get so carried away talking that you fail to listen for others’ thoughts and ideas. Keep it short.

Understand what the organization really values

Make it hard to argue against an idea that the organization deeply values.
This is why finding out what the organization really values is so important before you start communicating your ideas.

The Ten Percent Rule

Once the first followers get behind the idea, work together to influence 10 percent of thepeople in your organization.

Why 10 percent? Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when 10 percent of the people in a group believe in an idea, the majority of the people will adopt their belief.

Don’t get into the specific of how the sausage is made

We’re sure you’ve been in the meeting where someone tries to explain exactly how his idea will work. Once they go there, you begin losing momentum and they get stuck trying to explain how the sausage will be made—a sausage that no one has ever tasted, a sausage, in fact, that you’ve never even cooked before. Don’t get stuck on how the sausage is made, keep things at a conceptual level.

Chapter 6 - Managing Conflict

Best chapter of the book - worth reading in detail

There can be no change without conflict.

Three Stages of Conflict

We break conflict into three stages: disagreement, controversy, and conflict itself.

It’s important to know where you are—disagreement, controversy, or conflict—because there are different tactics and considerations for each stage.

  1. Disagreement, talking about ideas - differing views and approaches surface
  2. Controversy, considering new ideas - moment of opportunity
  3. Conflict, fighting about new ideas - moment of truth


How can we disagree without being disagreeable?

  • Listen before jumping in.
  • Remember that it’s not about winning.
  • Take out the emotion.
  • Speak last.

When you’re leading a meeting:

  • To assess importance or urgency, ask them to rate it

How important do you think this issue is on a scale of 1 to 10? Or how valuable do you think that direction would be on a scale of 1 to 10? Asking for a rating helps surface importance. If no one thinks it’s all that important, don’t waste your energy and reputation capital disagreeing about it.

  • To keep the conversation positive, frame it in terms of appreciation

Where has this approach worked well before? What are the upsides of going in this direction? What would success look like to you? What would be the very best outcomes for you? When you engage people with a positive mind-set, they become less defensive and more open-minded.

  • To focus on possibilities and collaboration, ask, “How might we?”

To move a conversation away from problems associated with your idea, ask a “How Might We” question. How implies there’s a solution. Might makes it safe to suggest ideas that may or may not work. We means that we’re in this together and are trying to collaborate for the good of the organization.

  • To keep people from feeling defensive, avoid why questions.

Asking why questions during disagreements can make people defensive. Why can be seen as interrogating a person, whereas what asks about the situation.

Disagreement is essential to learning what people think, feel, and want to see happen (or not happen). It can clarify thinking and create shared understanding. Often when there’s a difference of opinion, people don’t know whether they really disagree, whether they have different information or different values, or whether cognitive bias is coloring their perspective. It’s incumbent upon the rebel at work to clarify this for everyone at the meeting. Try to gently surface the reasons behind the disagreement.


There are ways to manage controversy, but there are no ways to avoid it


Change often entails controversy. If an idea doesn’t generate controversy, it might not be as strong as it could be

Remember, consensus is not a decision-making strategy. In fact, it is the opposite. It’s a technique to avoid making difficult choices


Often we have a hard time with conflict.

The more skilled we are with conflict, the less afraid of it and the more powerful—or, better yet, influential—we become

Types of conflict:

  • Interpersonal, some people just don’t get along. They rub each other the wrong way.
  • Structural, goals of different organizations or departments. People disagree on the direction. Conflict over tactics, strategic direction, or tactical approach.
  • Values-based, most serious form of conflict and almost impossible to resolve.

Understand your organization to be able to make change. Create change but don’t try to change your organization.

If your values are far removed from those of your boss or organization, you have a stark choice—suffer at work or leave.
If people in your organization hold values that you find intolerable, you won’t be able to change them. Trying to do so will wear you out, hurt your reputation, and quite possibly affect important things like friendships and your sense of optimism.

Interpersonal Conflict

  • Best default is empathy
  • Arguments based on logic lead to an impasse or even more ill feelings

Conflic Tactics in Meetings

If in a meeting there is high tension disarm the situation by acknowledging that tensions are high and disagreements are real.

Here are some tactics:

  • We’re all feeling frustrated and on edge. Let’s go around the room and share what we’re feeling in a sentence or a couple of words.
  • We’re not making progress because emotions are running high. Should we adjourn and cool off?
  • Are there data points that might help us see more clearly?
  • Should we get someone outside our group to facilitate so that we can resolve this?

Chapter 7 - Dealing with Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt

The greater your existing reputation capital, such as a history of creating successful programs or managing projects, the less you have to fear about your big rebel idea hurting your reputation.

Know where your boss is comming from

  • Make sure you support the bottom line, or whatever results “count.”
  • Understand your boss’s red lines and don’t cross them.
  • Invest in learning how your boss likes to receive ideas and feedback.

Fear about reputation

Ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, how much would the organization benefit if my idea is successful?”

  • If you answer 8–10, it’s likely worth the risk.
  • If it’s 4–7, take time to consider it more before charging ahead.
  • if it’s 1–3, it may not be worth it.

Fear about senior management

Senior leaders will want you to cut to the chase and address some important questions:

  • How does this help us achieve one of our important goals?
  • Is it feasible?
  • What do you know for sure about the situation and what needs to be learned?
  • What are the risks?
  • What kind of resources (financial and people) will it take?
  • Is the investment worth the likely outcome?
  • How long will it take to implement your idea?
  • How do you plan to measure progress and success?

See Immunity to Change Model

Thoughts to ponder

-What are the top two fears that hold you back from leading change at work? What can you do to reduce the risks associated with each of these fears?

  • What’s your give-up line? What is happening around you when you start using it? Now that you know what it is, what can you do differently when you hear yourself start to say it?
  • What hidden assumptions might be blocking you from achieving what’s especially important at work? How can you test those assumptions to see if they’re really true?
  • What is your dominant strength? How might you use that strength to increase your confidence?

Chapter 8 - A guide to rebel self-care

In other words, love your work and live a full life that provides meaning and contributes to your identity.

Should things not go well at work, as can happen, you will have better coping skills to bounce back.

Work is not more important than people

Chapter 9 - Am I becomming a bad rebel?

Sometimes bad rebels do “good”.

Is there a place for the “bad” rebel—the person who storms into an organization and bulldozes his change agenda? Usually, no. But there are exceptions.

Read the section on commentry of when a bad rebel can be motivated…

Rather than slowly rolling out his change initiatives by building relationships and developing coalitions of support, this rebel introduced a dizzying number of reforms and practices in a very short time in what some would say was an autocratic way.

4 Rules to avoid being a bad rebel

  1. Play Within the Rules
  2. Keep Your Sense of Humor
  3. Be an Idea Carrier, Not an Idea Warrior
  4. Don’t Play the Hero

Forces of organizational inertia - further explore

Chapter 10 - Give this chapter to your boss

Didn’t resonate to much with me

More info on book

Buy from Amazon
ISBN-13: 978-1491903957

blog comments powered by Disqus

Want to get my personal insights on what I learn as I learn it? Subscribe now!