The Value of Ideas From Disruptive Workers

The Value of Ideas From Disruptive Workers

Rebellious workers are sometimes perceived as incendiary, but there is evidence that on occasions they have come up with magnificent ideas. 

Rebellious workers are sometimes perceived as incendiary, but there is evidence that on occasions they have come up with magnificent ideas. 

In the 1980s, NASA trusted the Apollo-era systems, mainly because they had sent humans to the moon on a successful mission. However, a group of engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center had a different opinion concerning the Apollo-era mission control set-up. They believed that the system would not be able to handle the challenges of flying a space shuttle. NASA did not attend to the concerns of those engineers.

The group of young engineers, which called themselves “pirates” decided to code new software in their spare time, with the help of borrowed equipment that belonged to NASA suppliers. Their system differed from the other one since it consisted of personal workstations linked through a Unix network. Some months later, they brought their new system to be tested into mission control. This was not accepted by the flight controllers.

The Mission Control Director, Gene Kranz believed in the group of young engineers and requested the flight controllers to give them an opportunity. It is worth highlighting that the new system had better features. For instance, it was able to display graphics and colors and it could be reprogrammed. It was based on early forms of artificial intelligence. Gradually, all subsystems migrated to the new system and it was entitled to a Hammer Award, by Al Gore, as a recognition of the improvements it represented. The new system saved  74 million dollars in terms of development and 22 million dollars in costs of functioning.


There is strong evidence that rebellious people are very creative. Psychiatrist Rothenberg spent more than five decades testing people who had made innovative contributions to the fields of arts, science, and literature, trying to find out what triggered their creativity. He conducted structured interviews as well as experimental studies and literature reviews. He also interviewed 22 people that had been awarded a Nobel Prize. He found that there was a common trait. All of them were impulsed by the desire to create something new instead of working on ideas that already existed.

A team, directed by Petrou, at Erasmus University Rotterdam also interviewed a group of 156 employees from different industries in the Netherlands and found out that those who didn’t follow rules were more creative in general terms. However, for that rebellious trait to be fruitful, it had to be accompanied by the desire to be promoted, the tolerance to failure, and an interest in achieving personal development. To promote these innovative people, leaders of organizations should make space for creative ideas to be heard.

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