book cover
“…Think how comforting it is to be surrounded by people who think in the same way, who mirror our perspectives, who confirm our prejudices. It makes us feel smarter. It validates our world view... these dangers are as ancient as mankind itself.”

Rebel Ideas Book Review

Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed, 2019


Rebel Ideas is a provocative book which challenges us to become uncomfortable with what has become comfortable. The author, a journalist, uses well-known examples of situations where narrowness of experience limited the ability to understand fully and solve a problem.

So What? 

Too many people with the same experience and outlook don’t make the best team. An excellent example being the fact that the CIA, an organisation stuffed with Ivy League graduates from America’s white middle classes, were not able to comprehend the threat posed by Al Qaeda. Diversity shouldn’t be restricted to demographic features, like gender, race, age, sexual orientation or religion. It needs to be a diversity of the mind, or cognitive diversity Syed points out that:

  • Working with people who are too similar to us undermines our potential for success
  • Leadership and power structures quell dissent 
  • People in diverse teams need to be diverse in themselves. A high number of of influential innovators and entrepreneurs are migrants who are not familiar with the habits and characteristics of their new environment
  • Echo chambers occur when our own beliefs are regularly repeated by the people that surround us, whether in person or online
  • There are two types of innovation – the first is painstaking and incremental, the second is ‘recombinant’ innovation – where ideas are taken from different fields or backgrounds, and joined together

“…Immigrants have another advantage, too, inextricably linked to the notion of recombination. They have experience of two cultures, so have greater scope to bring ideas together. They act as bridges, facilities… If the outsider perspective confers the ability to question the status quo, diversity of experience helps to provide the recombinant answers.”

Now What?

A major investigation by Google, which sought to identify why some teams perform better than others, found that psychological safety was the single most important factor driving success. This can too easily turn into more of the same. So:

  • Diversity should be a strategic priority 
  • Recruitment is limited by homophily – the tendency to bond with and recruit people with similar backgrounds and experiences
  • Social media is characterized by a ‘new species of homogenous in-groups, linked not by the logic of kin or nomadic tribe, but by ideological fine-tuning’

Once you’ve finished this book and for a really great insight into beating bias there’s the ThreeWhats Beating Bias Playbook.