Initiating Change with Small Rebellions

Who has not had a sudden urge to shout “To hell with this!” and rebel? This kind of impulse is natural in humans and occurs when a feeling of indignation is felt when facing a situation. Whether it is a refusal to obey, opposition to a rule, revolt is not necessarily an act of chaos. It can be an act of creation.

This is essentially the message of Sam Conniff Allende in his book Be More Pirate. It tells how modern-day “pirates”, people like you and me, reject some rules and create new ones, and can really make a difference. He explains everything by drawing parallels with what the real pirates did during the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean between 1650 and 1730. I invite you to watch one of his very relevant speeches in the following video.

Why rebel?

To rebel is first and foremost to offer alternatives. By refusing a situation, one questions its relevance, its raison d’être. One wonders or realizes who benefits from the situation. And one finds ways to make the system serve us, people, better.

Now, probably very few of you have dropped everything by mere rebelliousness. However, I know of several people who have built their careers on a simple feeling of revolt against a problem or situation that they thought was unacceptable, and they made it their main battle. I’m one of them. But in this article, I’d like to talk about small revolts. Those we can do every day. Those that allow us to move forward or free us a little more when the structures in places won’t allow it. Small rebellions that push causes one step at a time.

What does it have to do with the world of work?

Why talk about this here? Because the workplace is an ideal battlefield for small, more or less harmless, but important, and meaningful acts of rebellion.

A lecturer, whose name I do not remember, once said that 100% of absurd regulations exist because of 4% of people who abuse the system. Difficult to check this statistic. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe that a majority of unnecessary corporate rules exist because of a history of a few dissidents who once crossed the line, tried to cheat, tried to manipulate the system to their advantage. The rather sad result of all this is that 100% of employees must comply with these rules that were created because of a few negative troublemakers, who sometimes have left organizations years ago.

What I suggest is to become positive troublemakers to rebalance everything and change things for the common good.

Stirring up good trouble

The idea is obviously to get things to go forward. To create a reflection, to generate a discussion, to help highlight what is intolerable, what hinders us, what infantilizes us, and to question its relevance. And even better, to offer alternatives and new options better adapted to our realities. But often, it must be done quickly, because organizations tend to stifle popular initiatives. As my partner would say, you need to act faster than the immune system of your organization.

Acts of rebellion with the sole purpose of creating problems are not constructive. It’s all about stirring up good trouble. Let’s be idealistic and constructive rebels, not for the sole purpose of derailing the status quo, but for the realistic and reasonable purpose of taking ownership our work environment for the good of the company (and, of course, ours).

To inspire you, I found many examples of small acts of rebellion. I was able to identify patterns in the different ways that people did it. Here are 4 rebellious strategies I could find in these multiple examples:

  • Highlighting the ridiculousness of a situation
  • Turning the arms against the system
  • Creating a situation that inspires reflection
  • Realigning with your own values

11 stories of positive rebellions

These stories are not necessarily related to life at work, but they are all examples where people have created small rebellions that have allowed instigators to inspire rapid change, create important reflection opportunities, or to realign with their values.

Olivier Fortier
Olivier Fortier
OLIVIER Fortier is first and foremost a believer in human beings. Owner of the blog Primos Populi -- which is Latin for People First -- his focus is to find innovative ways to bring back (and keep) people at the core of businesses, and ensure they can thrive. A manager, agilist, servant leader, facilitator, and former Scrum Master, all of these interesting titles and roles represent only the means to achieve what he truly believes in: cultivating people's awesomeness. His favorite things to reflect on are leader-leader relationships, psychological safety and the right to fail, career and personal development, humanity in recruitment, and how to lower the center of gravity of decision-making processes. Considering that businesses wouldn't exist without people, can one imagine how powerful it would be if all employees wholeheartedly wanted to be in their organizations, and wanted to do what they do? This is the work world Olivier wants to live in, and the goal he set for himself.


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