People Innovators Summit 2018: Developing Your Rebel Talent

Jennifer Juo

HR and L&D Insights Editor at Udemy for Business

October 10, 2018

Are you pushing the envelope and challenging the norm in employee learning & development (L&D) at your organization? At our annual Udemy for Business People Innovators Summit in San Francisco last week, 270+ L&D and People leaders came together to learn and connect with one another.

Speakers included senior leaders from Starbucks, Charles Schwab, PayPal, Adobe, Lyft, WeWork, NerdWallet, App Annie, Tile, Industrious, Thumbtack, MINDBODY, Udemy, and included a keynote from Francesca Gino, Professor of General Management and Leadership at Harvard Business School. Collectively, these leaders shared how they’re thinking boldly about people development and how doing things differently is what will ultimately help us develop our workforce in the digital age.

Nurture rebel talent in the digital age

With technology disruption everywhere, organizations recognize the need to nurture employees who are open to change, breaking the rules, and constantly innovating. Keynote speaker, Francesca Gino, Professor of General Management and Leadership at Harvard Business School said, “Rebels break rules and bring about positive change in the process. They smile at life and feel fulfilled. There is no better time for rebel action than now.”

In her research and book, Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules in Work and Life, Francesca has identified 5 key traits of what defines a rebel – and they aren’t the traits that typically come to mind when you think of a rebel. Rather than viewing rebels at outcasts or troublemakers, Francesca tells us to recognize the qualities that make rebels important to company growth–authenticity, novelty, curiosity, perspective, and diversity.

“When we play to our strengths and find ways to be authentic at work, we feel more committed to the organization we work for and experience more joy in our pursuits,” explained Francesca. To harness the most innovative ideas, rebel leaders also surround themselves with people who think differently from them.

Take smart risks, reward failure

How can you empower more rebels in the workplace? Francesca highlighted how organizations like Intuit encourage rebelliousness and keep curiosity alive with their Innovation and Failure Awards. Wyatt Cutler, Global Head of Talent, Development & Learning at PayPal shared on a panel at the People Innovators Summit, “In our ’90 Seconds at PayPal,’ our CEO (Dan Schulman) highlights innovative initiatives, including those embracing risk that have a positive impact on our customers. We also have an internal rewards program that recognizes innovation, risk, and failing fast to learn.”

Drew Fifield, Senior Director of Learning & Development at Industrious, recommended encouraging risk-taking by spreading the risk across the team. “At my previous company, Nike, we set up shared goals to distribute the sting of failure (if it occurs) across a collective team, rather than the individual. This led to increased innovation and high-performing teams.”

It’s not surprising helping employees take smart risks leads to higher performing teams and organizations. Darren Shimkus, GM of Udemy for Business, revealed our new research insights: 61% of leading organizations encouraged employees to take smart risks compared to only 14% of lagging organizations.

Approach unconscious bias with authenticity

In addition to taking smart risks, authenticity is another key characteristic of a rebel. Molly Hill, VP of Global Talent at Starbucks shared for the first time at our People Innovators Summit how Starbucks addressed a major business challenge by being authentic and going back to their roots.

On May 29, 2018, Starbucks closed all their cafes for half a day to conduct unconscious bias training across their 8,000 stores in the U.S. As part of the training, small employee groups at each store came together over a cup of coffee. The content was designed to be experiential, galvanizing with shock value, yet optimistic and focused on making authentic, human connections. All of the content used in the training is available on the Starbucks website for other L&D leaders to adapt to unconscious bias training programs at their organizations.

Embrace your inner rebel and shake up L&D

L&D leaders also shared ways they’re embracing their inner rebel and shaking things up in the L&D space. Charles Schwab revolutionized how they train their finance professionals for a licensing exam. Dean Greiss, Managing Director – Learning Delivery at Charles Schwab accelerated learning through a highly collaborative form of social learning that was better suited to their Millennial workforce. Instead of forcing individuals to read a 600-page textbook on their own, they were organized into small groups where each member was responsible for learning and teaching their peers a section of the book.

At Udemy, our L&D team shook things up by introducing Augmented Reality (AR) into our employee onboarding program. “Augmented Reality met our onboarding objectives by allowing employees to bond while learning about our company. The beauty of AR is it magically brought our story to life. The AR app sent new hire teams on a mission all over our building while learning in a fun way together,” explained Shelley Osborne, Head of L&D at Udemy.

At Thumbtack, the People team is focused on implementing memorable experiences to help people learn. “One of the challenges we’ve faced has been learning retention. So we decided to mix things up and introduce memorable experiences to help people remember the training and what they learned. For example, we ran a learning experience with live animals. Our employees were out there in a pen with farm animals learning how to collaborate and communicate,” said Justin Angsuwat VP of People at Thumbtack.

Taking risks is what makes us uniquely human

Darren Shimkus, GM of Udemy for Business, highlighted the uniquely human traits that make organizations successful such as the willingness to take risks, envisioning different futures, storytelling to provide meaning and context, and collaborating to solve problems. We encourage you to embrace your inner rebel and these uniquely human characteristics to do new things at your organization. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s People Innovators Summit!

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at

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