The Art of Insubordination: A Review

By Lisa Sansom –

Announcement: Today is the launch day for Todd Kashdan’s new book,

The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted it in my house or to hold it in my hands. It made me nervous.

I’ve known the author, Todd Kashdan, by reputation and casually for a few years and enjoyed his other books. But having this particular book around? It just felt a little more daring and subversive. Todd (can I call you Todd?) can be quite daring and subversive. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that sort of energy on my bookshelf.

Some time ago, Todd posted online about a special prize for someone who had copies of his other books. There were three other books at the time, and I had them all. I told him so, and he wanted a picture to prove it. I sat down in the middle of my living room, holding all three books, snapped a very bad selfie, and sent it to him. He told me I’d won a prize: I’d get a copy of his next book.

Although I tend to have a poor memory, that stuck with me. When I saw someone else recently post about The Art of Insubordination on LinkedIn, I decided to… well… be a little insubordinate and comment about how I was waiting for Todd to send me a copy of his book because of this so-called contest that I’d won. Of course, I tagged Todd. Kudos to him. He answered, and now I have a copy of this dangerous book.

Spoiler alert: I’m glad I read the book, and I expect you will be too.

Todd Kashdan in action

Back Story

I first e-met Todd after I graduated from the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. That program was created by Dr. Martin Seligman, who has a long and storied career as a researcher and thought leader. It was a fabulous program. While it was extremely rigorous as we studied at the graduate level, there were also fun times. We watched movies with Marty and heard him connect the films to positive psychology. We got to hear about his dreams for this relatively new field. Beyond Marty, we got to hear from amazing guest lecturers who not only talked about their past and current research, but also shared their thinking about future research. You just couldn’t get that anywhere else!

When we graduated. I became heavily involved in the MAPP Alumni Association and started to hear about and from other researchers in the field including dissenting voices. The MAPP bubble wasn’t exactly burst, but it did become more transparent in some ways and more visibly obvious in others. There were theories and models that we hadn’t learned and other researchers investigating relevant topics. One dissenting voice was Dr. Todd Kashdan.

IPPA Positive Health and Wellbeing (PHW) welcomes you to a ‘Fireside Chat with Dr. Todd Kashdan,’ who will present “The Art of Principled Insubordination,” Friday, March 4, 2022 at 11:00am (ET). Register here.

Todd wasn’t quiet about his feelings about the Penn MAPP program. At the time, he thought it was narrow and exclusive. He made a point of connecting with MAPP grads on social media to let them know that there was an entire world of academics, thought leaders, and research beyond MAPP. While he was right, he wasn’t always agreeable (as one might say in a sort of Big-5, compromising, compliant, people-pleasing sort of way) about it.

Todd, I later learned, was invited to early discussions about the new field of positive psychology but chose instead to carve his own path. Over the course of his career, he has taken positive psychology into bold new areas, working with various colleagues and challenging traditional thinking. That is, if thinking in a field that’s barely 25 years old could be called “traditional.” The field is all the richer for it.

What is this book?

The Art of Insubordination comes across as not only research and advice on “how to dissent and defy effectively,” as the subtitle promises, but also as a memoir providing insight into how Todd himself practices insubordination, including the pros and cons. Todd himself, a great researcher and thinker, had a challenging childhood (as he shares in the book) and is the father of three girls. All this experience propels him to see the world with different perspectives.

Todd notices that many things have “always been done” in certain ways and recognizes that these may not be the best ways forward. Over time, Todd has been pushing back not just on the field of positive psychology, but on many different practices and traditions. In this book, he recounts episodes in his history of insubordination. He has also collected the stories of other insubordinates.

I appreciate the way he curated substantial research to back up both the positive power of principled insubordination and how to do it effectively. 

Book Structure

At a basic level, this book is divided into three parts: in praise of insubordination, the non-conformist’s cookbook, and harnessing disobedience. Each section has 3 or 4 chapters, all with provocative and inspirational titles. Who wouldn’t want to Engage the Outrageous or Build Mental Fortitude? I expected to open this book and see full-color pictures of Iris Apfel staring daringly and stylishly back at me, inviting me to challenge the ho-hum status quo.

Throughout the book, Todd peppers his prose with “The Big Idea” call-out boxes. An extract from one of my favorites appears in the chapter titled Attract People Who’ve Got Your Back. It suggests that we “run headlong into moments of shared adversity.” Just reading that made me feel a little bolder and more courageous.

Todd shares principles in each chapter. This is about principled insubordination, after all. He finishes each chapter with “Recipe steps.” These are practical takeaways to help readers implement the keys from that chapter. This is some spicy cookbook.

As an avid consumer of research, I appreciated that this is indeed a well-researched book. At 60 pages, the end notes section is over one-quarter of the book. I found the notes interesting reading in of themselves, adding to the overall impact of the book and supporting its many important ideas.

What will this book do for you?

Is this book really going to scare you? Probably not. If you’re already attracted to the book, then it will probably reaffirm what you believe with compelling research and insightful anecdotes. He points out that principled insubordination lives in a Goldilocks zone: be careful to tread neither too lightly nor too forcefully if you want to provoke effective positive change.

Is this book going to help you dissent and defy? Quite possibly. If you have an idea or a cause that you want to stand up for, this book will help you do so regardless of how insubordinate that might cause you to be. In some ways, this is also a book about excellent communication, effective change management, and meaningful interpersonal and emotional intelligence.

At its core, this book is designed to change the way that its readers see the world and act within it. The tools that it provides, drawn no doubt from Todd’s own life and professional experiences as well as research, could inspire you to take on that noble cause that has been nagging at you. It certainly has made me think differently about some of the systems in my small part of the world.

IPPA Positive Health and Wellbeing (PHW) welcomes you to a ‘Fireside Chat with Dr. Todd Kashdan,’ who will present “The Art of Principled Insubordination,” Friday, March 4, 2022 at 11:00am (ET). Register here.

References: Todd’s full book list. There are too many articles to list here.

Kashdan, T. (2022). The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively. Avery Press.

Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your Good Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment. Hudson Street Press.

Kashdan, T. B. & Ciarrochi, J. (Eds.) (2013). Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology: The Seven Foundations of Well-Being. Context Press.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.

Holding Art of Insubordination picture posted on Facebook by Philip Wilkerson III

This article first appeared on Positive Psychology News. To see the original article, click here. To comment on this article, click here.

Lisa Sansom, MAPP ’10, is the owner of LVS Consulting, an independent consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. Lisa provide services such as individual and leadership coaching, team facilitation, effective communications training, Appreciative Inquiry and change management consulting. Full Bio.

Articles by Lisa are here.


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