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Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed: a riveting read, jam-packed with interesting facts

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

How come the CIA didn’t foresee the 9/11 terrorist attack? Why was Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax such a disaster? What went tragically wrong on a well-planned Everest expedition led by experts?

The answers lie in Matthew Syed’s excellent book Rebel Ideas.

Lack of diversity

Failure can be explained by a lack of diversity, not just colour, race and gender but cognitive diversity. Syed demonstrates, with examples, that intelligent individuals become collectively stupid if they are too similar. Unfortunately, we all love working in homogenous groups, which perpetuates the system.

Constructive dissent

Some of us would literally rather die than point out an error to our (presumed) superiors. The aircraft engineer who was too intimidated to contradict his captain bears this out in this chapter. Failure to speak up is common and is bad news for diversity – because diverse opinion is not expressed.

Leaders who are ‘prestigious’ and respected tend to get better results than dominant alphas who rule by fear. This concept is explored in depth. It makes one wonder why companies aren’t more progressive; as well as being better places to work, results will improve.


This chapter explains how diversity, networking and socialising are necessary in order for new ideas and products to emerge. The recombining, where individual ideas or products are put together with one another to form something new and unique, is discussed and demonstrated.

Echo chambers

Hands up; I’m guilty. This was brought home to me with a bang in June 2016 after the Brexit vote in the UK. The shock was palpable. How could this possibly be when I didn’t know a single person who voted in favour of leaving the EU? Because I was so immersed in my educated urban bubble that I couldn’t see what was happening in the rest of the country.

Since then, I have tried to be more open to listening to ideas that I don’t like or don’t agree with – but it’s hard. Although my friends are quite a mixed bunch, my social media contacts are all quite similar in their political views.

This chapter contains a fascinating case study involving ex-white supremacist Derek Black and fellow college student and orthodox Jew Matthew Stevenson. This alone is worth the price of the book.


Rebel Ideas is jam-packed with interesting facts, and reading it has made me think deeply about unconscious bias and how necessary diversity is. Everyone can learn something from it, whether or not you are a leader. Best of all, it’s a riveting read.

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This blog was originally posted on Peppis Designworks.

About the author

Annette Peppis leads the team at Peppis Designworks, a creative hub of established publishing industry experts who create books, branding, marketing material and design templates for leading publishers and businesses. Keep in touch by subscribing to Annette’s bi-monthly emails.

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