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  • Isa Seedat

Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed – An Argument For Diversity


Diversity is a concept we have all encountered before. Be it at school, university or work, the virtues of diversity have all been espoused to us in one form or another. But ask yourself, why is it so important?

In his book, Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking, Sunday Times bestselling author, Matthew Syed sets out to answer this question. In this ambitious, thought-provoking work, Syed’s central argument suggests that harnessing the power of ‘cognitive diversity’ — that is ‘differences in perspectives, insights, experiences and thinking styles’ — is the only way to conceive of new, innovative solutions in a world ridden with ever more complex problems.

Rebel Ideas is ultimately a plethora of case studies; selected carefully to contextualise the abstract notion of diversity and ground it in the everyday. Diversity is broken down into seven broad themes and while readers may have encountered a few of these before, be it the theory of ‘echo chambers’ or ‘blind spots’, there are sure to be aspects that prove refreshingly novel.

Drawing upon numerous and seemingly disparate historical cases, from the 9/11 disaster to Thatcher’s unpopular poll tax and even a tragic climb of Mount Everest in 1996, Syed illustrates the undesirable and sometimes fatal consequences a lack of diverse thinking can have. Other cases depict examples of where the existence of diversity has proven valuable; the most striking of which is his eye-opening analysis of why immigrants are ‘twice as likely to become entrepreneurs’.

However, certain case studies were more tenuously linked to diversity than others, leading to an unfortunate sense that some historical instances had been exaggerated or unfairly simplified in order to better align with the book’s central tenet. Notably, the contention that a lack of diversity in the CIA hindered the possibility of being able to predict the 9/11 attacks is sensical in its presentation but nevertheless seems oversimplified, with conclusions too hastily and easily drawn.

Nonetheless, an occasional simplification or exaggeration is surely forgiven as Rebel Ideas successfully engages with a remarkably nuanced topic in a studious and robust way. In general, Syed avoids simply arguing diversity for diversity’s sake, and he often corroborates many of his arguments with statistical evidence, further legitimating them. Equally, he has avoided turning the debate into a dreary and detached fact sheet meaning readers find themselves positively engaging with arguments in a more critical manner.

Syed’s storytelling style being mixed intimately, if not always, with empirical evidence allows Rebel Ideas to simultaneously be a book for the business-minded and the individual. It ensures the narrative provided is a convincingly compelling and accessible one.

In a time where the world’s problems are becoming increasingly complex, with its peoples more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, Rebel Ideas is compulsory reading for those who wish to utilise the power of diversity for more meaningful and innovative ends.

Image: Prima PR & Marketing / Flickr



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