• Rupa Bharadva

Rebel Leader: Matthew Syed

Welcome to Matthew Syed, author, speaker, and former table tennis player. We're so excited that Matthew will be giving the opening keynote speech at Unleash Your Inner Rebel, where he'll talk about harnessing unique perspectives to revolutionise the way we lead. Here, he gives us a taster of what's to come.





Hi Matthew, we're really looking forward to hearing you speak at Unleash Your Inner Rebel. How would you define a rebel?

"For me, a rebel is somebody who can criticise and think differently, but in a constructive way."


What about the term 'unleashing your inner rebel'? What does that mean to you? Any examples that you could give maybe from your own like personal experience?

"I think the biggest thing for me was my reinvention from playing table tennis to being a writer. And then almost as intimidating was writing for adults and then deciding to start writing for children. That was quite rebellious. A lot of people advised me to not do it but that was probably the biggest innovation I made in my career.


"I spent so long trying to be good at hitting the plastic ball, and then tried to find a new kind of life. I had to be a bit rebellious and the way that I challenged myself was part of the transition."

"A rebel is somebody who can criticise and think differently, but in a constructive way."

How did you go from sport to writing?

"I had to be quite proactive. I tried lots of different things because obviously, I was starting from scratch. I called directory enquiries (this was before the internet took off), and got the telephone number of The Times. I just kept cold calling and after a number of different attempts to get through to a sports editor, I got a break really. But it was it was touch and go for a long time. It took a lot of initiative to get the ball rolling.


What would you consider as your rebel superpower?

"I think maybe one thing that helped is having a mixed race background. My father's Pakistani and my mum's Welsh. And those different cultures and ways of looking at the world, I definitely had some sense of how advantageous it could be to look at the world in a slightly different way, if that makes sense."


What company or institution does rebel thinking really well?

"I think unquestionably the big tech companies have done this well. There I suppose quite obvious, but quite impressed with the tech giants, I think, quite amazing that some of the things they've done done well. I think GCHQ thinks about this in a really creative way. How they recruit; how they broaden their scanning horizon; how they cultivate psychological safety, I think they're very good.


How can culture help to bring out the best in people?

"It plays a huge role. If diverse voices are going to be heard, they need to be included. There needs to be a space where people speak up and bring their best selves to meetings and other kinds of collective deliberation. I think a growth mindset helps as well where people are always seeking to learn rather than trying to convey how much they already know. That changes the dynamic sculpturally and it's very valuable."


Any advice for those leading teams on how they can support their team to challenge each other in a positive way?

"I think we need a culture of diversity where people see these diverse perspectives. As a kind of hypothesis tested. We're testing each other's ideas. We're doing it vigorously and respectfully. And it's that mutual challenge and this discussion and debate in a timely fashion. I think that's what the cultural diversity really means where people see the diversity is mission critical to the organisation's objectives."


Thanks so much for your time Matthew! We look forward to seeing you on the big stage in a few weeks' time.



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