Nimi Attanayake found unexpected insights in her chosen best read, Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed
I don’t think I’d have picked this up to read if we hadn’t decided to order enough books for everyone in the nimtim studio last Christmas. The idea was that everyone would read one and then talk about it. This one was a late arrival, so I ended up with it.
I thought it would be very difficult to read but it’s not. It’s about diverse thinking – not just in terms of race and culture but more broadly about ideas and a way of thinking.
There is a perception of what business should be like. But this book is about understanding that everyone has different ways of doing things. And instead of insisting that there is only one way and that everyone should conform to this norm, each of these ideas can be celebrated. In this way, businesses can foster creativity and be far richer for it.
Traditionally people form hierarchical structures. This looks at how to do things differently, with research about how people thrive, how people exchange ideas, and how people think. There’s a lot about sharing information, having an open dialogue, and having time to reflect and think how you can learn from mistakes. Companies like Facebook and Google put a lot of time into fostering this sort of environment.
As it discusses these issues, the book gives lots of detailed examples, such as how a lack of diverse thinking was a blind spot in CIA intelligence in the run-up to 9/ll. They found it harder to understand the mindset of radical Muslims because they had very few people from Islamic backgrounds (indeed any ethnic groups) within the organisation.
It also looks in great detail at a disastrous Everest climb in which many people died to find out why it went so wrong. It seems there was blind faith in the leader of the climbing group, with others not feeling comfortable enough in their own expertise to share their knowledge, maybe out of a fear of questioning authority. For example, one member of the team was a weather expert who may have had a better understanding of the weather conditions than the leader. And someone else knew that the oxygen levels were lower than was stated. We learn how important it is to foster the right, open-minded environment so you can share information, and how important it is for leaders to learn how to listen and accept that they might not have all the answers.
I’d recommend Rebel Ideas. It’s helped us to understand that diversity within teams, organisations and professions isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a good thing to do in terms of getting better outcomes. Personally, I find it quite refreshing to read that it’s okay to go against the grain and to do things differently, and that there’s a real value in doing that.
As told to Pamela Buxton
Nimi Attanayake is co-founder of nimtim architects
See more favourite books, discovering the roots of Gothic architecture with Naila Yousuf, how Who Owns England chimed with Sarah Featherstone’s VeloCity and why Murray Kerr is not convinced by Houses for Sale on home designs without clients. Or delve into the archive of favourite books with Peter Cook, Tszwai So, Owen Hopkins, Annalie Riches, Matthew Barnett Howland