How many books really inspire you, so much so you listen to it twice, you text yourself to remember the great bits, you buy the book and then highlight all those great bits, you then mention it to loads of people and then it inspires new content for training courses…

That is what happened with Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas and throughout the book, which is narrated by him, he articulates his inspiration through great stories and examples where the outcomes of these stories could have been different with teams of rebels rather than clones.

Have you ever worked in an environment where people recruited to a team seemed to be a carbon copy of the person doing the hiring?  Have you noticed people just simply repeating what the manager is saying because it appears they are trying to elevate their position or simply sound good?  Have you worked in teams where questioning and challenge are actively discouraged because you’re expected to simply agree with everything your seniors are telling you?  Have you worked in teams where there is such a strict sense of hierarchy which is designed to command and control people into one way of thinking?

I don’t know about you, but all of the above feels stifling, oppressive, controlling, fearful and egotistical.  I have worked in an environment like that and never again…

Conversely, I’ve worked in places where ideas and challenges are actively encouraged, team members support and feedback to each other, the leader knows that the best ideas exist all around the team and by seeking out those diverse ideas, the most radical and different the better, overall, the success of the team will be greatly improved.

Matthew uses the term ‘homophily’ to explain that our social networks are full of people with similar experiences, views and beliefs.  He refers to the following example “Take two economists: one white, gay, male and middle-aged, the other black, young female, heterosexual.  These economists are different in demographic terms – and might tick all the boxes on a conventional diversity matrix.  But suppose they went to the same university, studied under the same professor and left with similar models.  In these circumstances, they would be clone-like in relation to the problem.”

So do you encourage clone-like behaviour in your team or work?  The argument for working in this way is of course very compelling!  It is easier, comfortable, people are like you and you probably love working with each other.  This is how it was described to feel by a group of politicians who were responsible for implementing the Poll Tax in the 1990s.  The group all had similar public school backgrounds and were all educated at Oxbridge.  The chair of the review group had a similar background and they spent their time working on this Government policy, “agreeing, mirroring, parroting, corroborating, confirming, reflecting.  They were basking in the warm glow of homophily.  This social harmony deluded them into thinking they were homing in on a wise policy.  In fact, it showed the opposite.  They were entrenching each other’s blind spots.”  Approximately 250,000 people descended on London to protest and in 1993 the Poll Tax was replaced by the Council Tax.

Just this infamous example must be justification enough for valuing ‘Cognitive Diversity’ – bringing together those who think completely differently, have different backgrounds and experiences.  I’m sure however, we can all recall examples when we’ve said ‘I loved working with them’ or ‘we just work in the same way’ – this is the point at which to pause, make your unconscious bias, conscious…

How can you ensure your teams consist of groups of rebels?

A really great starting point is to improve your own self-awareness and also those around you.  Using Insights Discovery and Carl Jung’s psychological preferences, here are some things to consider:

How we react to things:


  • Do you or any of your team members have high introverted preferences?
  • Do they have their great ideas silently?
  • How included are they in group discussions?
  • If you have a high introversion preference, how much do you contribute to group discussions or do you choose to be silent unless you are asked?
  • If you lead discussions, how actively do you include everyone?


  • Are you the kind of person who is so busy thinking of what you want to say, you don’t listen to others or you even cut across them or finish their sentences?
  • Do you banter endlessly in meetings, bouncing ideas back and forth with like-minded people who also love to fill the airtime?
  • How aware are you of the amount you talk or dominate in meetings?
  • How much do you actively include everyone in discussions, including those who are quiet? Or do you just assume they are disinterested or have nothing to say?
  • How curious are you, asking open questions to gather different ideas?


How we make decisions:


  • How much do you purely value decision-making based on facts and logic?
  • How dismissive are you of those who use their gut instincts or emotions to help with their decision-making?
  • How task-focused are you at the expense of people and relationships?
  • How focused are you at getting the job done, whatever the cost?


  • How much do you purely value decision-making based on gut feel and emotion?
  • How dismissive are you of those who rely purely on facts and data to help with their decision-making?
  • How much do you focus on people and relationships in your decision-making?
  • How might you slow down decision-making because you want everyone to be happy?


How we perceive things:


  • How sensible do you perceive it is, to do things one at a time?
  • How much do you love a process map and doing things step by step?
  • How important do you think it is to be ‘in the moment’ and deal with the present rather than be seeing things miles ahead?
  • How much importance do you place on evidence and being able to see, touch and experience things right now?
  • How ‘here and now’ are you rather than thinking big picture?


  • How much importance do you place on seeing things globally?
  • How often do you feel you bounce between multiple things as they seem to interconnect?
  • How creative and conceptual are you in your thinking?
  • How intuitive are you – forming patterns of thinking and ideas as you go?
  • How much do you think in a big picture way rather than the here and now?


We are all a blend of these preferences, however, some of our patterns of behaving and thinking can become entrenched and particularly if we are under pressure, we may resort to habits of doing things in the same way as we’ve always done them….

The power of cognitive diversity can be explained by taking me as an example:

I have high levels of extraversion, feeling and intuition – I’m creative, imaginative, rely on gut instincts and love to have conversations, talk things through and generally be quite energetic.

My virtual PA Heather Baylis has high levels of introversion, thinking and sensation – she thrives in a world of data, facts and logic, with evidence behind it and will communicate things when required after having observed and reflected what is going on.

My bookkeeper is similar to Heather, does things in a routine and systematic manner, takes things as they are and focuses on the numbers.  In a 121 conversion he is chatty and outgoing but I have yet to see him out at a party leading a conga or dancing on tables!

This is a world of cognitive diversity!  If everyone was like me, there wouldn’t be differences in views, contributions and ways of doing things.

So, when you are next bringing a team of people together, remember the success of Bletchley Park during the Second World War, where a team of people was brought together through the completion of a crossword in the Daily Telegraph.  Alistair Denniston who headed up the operation, realised he needed a group of rebels rather than mathematical clones to crack the Enigma machine.  They had different intellectual and demographic backgrounds, sexuality, sex, religion and social backgrounds.  It would have been easy to hire groups of brilliant mathematicians but through their cognitive diversity, George Steiner, the philosopher and critic, described Bletchley Park as “the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939-45, perhaps during the 20th century as a whole”.

Here is the value of cognitive diversity – do check out the film ‘The Imitation Game’ and better still, enjoy the amazing learning in Matthew Syed’s book – here’s to rebel ideas!

For more information on enabling cognitively diverse teams, starting with Insights Discovery, please do check out my modules for a high-performing team