Audiobook Review: Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed

I have always enjoyed watching Matthew Syed on the Sky News paper review – finding him very sensible and level headed, and taking a reasonably middle of the road view on most topics. Then, when on holiday with my parents in Summer 2019, and the paper review came on, and I voiced my Matthew Syed appreciation – my Mum proceeded to tell me that Matthew’s father, Abbas, had been her tutor for an accounting qualification in the mid 90s – and how proud he’d been of his table tennis playing champion son! I didn’t realise Matthew had had this prior career – or the family connection – how totally random is life sometimes?!?

Then in Autumn 2020 I was out for a walk with a friend – and she raved about the new book she was reading ‘Rebel Ideas’ by the aforementioned Matthew Syed. Obviously, I impressed her with my story – but the premise of the book really interested me. This particular friend and I often enjoy the same fiction books – but now it was time to see if the same could be said for non fiction.

Here’s the blurb:

“Where do the best ideas come from?
And how do we apply these ideas to the problems we face – at work, in the education of our children, and in the biggest shared challenges of our age: rising obesity, terrorism and climate change?
In this bold and inspiring new book, Matthew Syed – the bestselling author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking – argues that individual intelligence is no longer enough; that the only way to tackle these complex problems is to harness the power of our ‘cognitive diversity’.
Rebel Ideas is a fascinating journey through the science of team performance. It draws on psychology, economics, anthropology and genetics, and takes lessons from a dazzling range of case-studies, including the catastrophic intelligence failings of the CIA before 9/11, a communication breakdown at the top of Mount Everest, and a moving tale of deradicalization in America’s deep South.
It is book that will strengthen any company, institution or team, but it also offers many individual applications too: the remarkable benefits of personalised nutrition, advice on how to break free of the echo chambers that surround us, and tips on how we can all develop an ‘outsider mindset’.
Rebel Ideas offers a radical blueprint for creative problem-solving. It challenges hierarchies, encourages constructive dissent and forces us to think again about where the best ideas come from.”

I started listening to the book back in December 2020 on my school runs up and down the M5 – but then Christmas and the subsequent lock down meant trips in the car on my own were few and far between – so it’s taken until the return to school recently for me to finish the audiobook (read by Matthew himself).

I have to say I enjoyed it from the off. The first chapter looks at the ‘Collective Blindness’ of the CIA in not uncovering the 9/11 plot before it happened. Primarily because the members of the CIA were all of a certain ‘type’ and didn’t believe that some ‘tall bloke with a beard in a cave’ could actually plan such a catastrophic event. Clearly I’m paraphrasing, and the book is much more informative. The attention to detail in Matthew’s writing is excellent and satisfies the inner geek in me immensely.

As well as 9/11 there are other significant events that are used to prove the theory behind the benefit of diverse thinking. From the staffing of Bletchley Park (randomly I read a fiction book about the site at the same time), a fatal Everest expedition, to the beginnings of wheeled suitcases – it covers a huge array of topics, but all looking at the power of diverse thinking.

On an incredibly smaller scale, I’ve seen the power of diverse thinking in my own marriage! I’m a geeky, girlie swot, teacher pleasing, rule following, pedant, chartered accountant whereas my husband is dyslexic, with no formal qualifications, a rule ‘bender’ and an entrepreneur – but therefore the different things we bring to the table in our family life, to our kids, and in the construction business we run together, is definitely greater than the sum of our individual parts. I think the same also goes for my friendship groups. My politics is fairly middle of the road – but I have real life friends, and social media friends, who are much further left and much further right than me. This makes for interesting discussions (generally in real life – I try to avoid controversy on social media!) but I think makes me a more rounded person for being happy to have those discussions. As Matthew says in the book – society has become so polarised, many people on social media exist in an echo chamber where the points of view they see, exacerbated by the algorithms on sites such an Facebook and Twitter, are only the ones they agree with.

The maths graduate in me enjoyed the ‘Beyond Average’ chapter a lot (although the most recent averages I’ve done was for home schooling Year 4 and Year 6 maths) I enjoyed the way Matthew had such a varied set of examples to back up his views – which makes the book feel really well researched.

I can totally see why my friend was so passionate when talking about ‘Rebel Ideas’ – and I completely concur that it has made me stop and think (and espouse the principles to anyone who will listen!).

In a full circle back to my family story, the book is dedicated by Matthew ‘For Abbas. my inspirational father’ – perfect.

I’ve just noticed the Kindle edition of Rebel Ideas is currently only 99p on Amazon – so I would highly recommend you download it immediately if you want to read something a bit different that makes you think over the Easter weekend.

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