Book of the week 3: Rebel Ideas

20th January, 2020

I hesitated to read Matthew Syed’s Rebel Ideas, not because I disapproved, but because I wondered whether I would learn anything new. The territory is familiar: cognitive diversity leads to better decisions. Like attracts like, meaning that we fill our organisational toolkits with hammers and neglect to recruit the screwdrivers, hacksaws and wrenches. That’s a bad idea, no matter how good the hammers are.
But my hesitancy was a mistake: Rebel Ideas is a great book and I’ve learned plenty that’s new, as well as gaining a deeper appreciation of what I thought I already knew.
Matthew Syed does cover some territory that was familiar to me from writing Messy. He cites my book and others that I admire, including Charlan Nemeth’s No!, Sunstein and Hastie’s Wiser, Joe Heinrich’s The Secret of Our Success and Scott Page’s The Difference. If you haven’t read these books, I suggest that you do – you’re in for a treat.
But even if you have, Syed’s synthesis is impressive. His storytelling is breathtaking – he opens with a discussion of the CIA’s failure to spot the 9/11 attacks, and flits across plane crashes, the invention of the wheeled suitcase, and the rise of Silicon Valley. His discussion of a disastrous Everest expedition is particularly hard to put down. This approach – story plus science – is of course standard in the genre, but I can assure you that it’s very hard to do well, and Syed does it very well indeed.
Syed covers collective blindness, constructive dissent, innovation, echo chambers and the evolution of culture itself. My usual book-reading habit of creasing the bottom corner of a page I want to come back to has somewhat backfired – there are dozens of creases because the book is packed with good stuff.

Catch up on the first season of my podcast “Cautionary Tales” [Apple] [Spotify] [Stitcher]

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