A maverick let loose in a business culture is a disruptive force that can morph into a catalyst for constructive change.
A maverick is someone who always wants tomorrow to be today. Accepting the way things are, because that’s the way they are, is about as uncomfortable for the maverick as running naked through a field of poison ivy. And they seem to come by this independent spirit quite naturally.
There seems to be something hardwired in the internal circuitry of mavericks that causes them to want to fix what others don’t think is broken. When they were younger, parents and teachers referred to nascent mavericks as the ones with “ants in their pants.” They were the independent thinkers, often viewed as “odd” or out of place. In the Old West a wild horse that could not be tamed, trained or branded was called a maverick; and that pretty well sums up how the business world feels about today’s mavericks.
Since the objective of most business organizations is for things to run smoothly, the focus of management is to codify consistency and eliminate surprise. It’s no wonder, then, that the corporate culture tends to dismiss the maverick as simply a disgruntled malcontent who is unhappy with any and every thing.
But this is a hasty, misjudgment fostered by those who are, for the most part, content with the same old, same old. A true maverick is only discontented when things are not as they “should be” and when no effort is being made to do what should be done. The essence of a maverick – and the real value they can add – is to make others uncomfortable with the way things are so they can be more accepting of the way things should be.
Most of those in business who have to deal with a maverick in their midst, pass through three phases of emotion:
In the first phase they are frustrated and irritated with the maverick for being a nonconformist outlier who is not willing to go along to get along.
In the next phase many managers become intimidated by the ideas of the maverick, because they may force them to change the way they do things. And change is discomfiting.
Finally, it is not unusual for those who initially chastised the maverick to come to wish that, they too, could be a maverick.
Even though any company can benefit from encouraging a maverick mentality, being a business maverick is not easy, because it means being an outsider while being on the inside. Bringing about needed change from the inside is the most difficult to accomplish, because those on the inside are the most resistant to change. This is the reason why troubled companies often look outside for someone to be brought in as the change-agent. Yet the most effective change can only come from someone who fully understands the inside, but does not complacently accept it as the only way, or even the best way. And such a person can only be an embedded maverick.
The Maverick is a Shameless Rule Breaker
Let there be no doubt that successful mavericks in business are those who break the existing rules of how things should be done and chart new, creative courses of action. Often, due to constant rejection, trailblazing mavericks end up running new entrepreneurial businesses, but it is also possible for the maverick to end up running some of the biggest names in business. One thing all successful mavericks have in common is that they changed the company they work for or the industry they operate in from the inside. They had experience and knowledge of how the business was being run, and had an idea to do it better. Think of Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, Steve Jobs, the guru of Apple, Inc., Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Richard Branson of the Virgin empire. Mavericks like these are noted first and foremost for breaking the rules and traditions of their industries that say, “You can’t do that.” Still, true maverick rule-breakers are too few on the American business scene and there is always opportunity – not to mention need – for more.
So You Want to be a Maverick?
If you want to join the universe of successful business mavericks, you’ve got to start by thinking like they do. And the first sign of a true maverick is relentless curiosity. The man or woman who challenges the old, outmoded rules of business is constantly asking questions and confronting the way things are done. True mavericks are never negative just to be negative. Rather they offer positive alternatives to established procedures and mores.
Inveterate mavericks often exhibit other attributes as well:
- They are willing to explore new perspectives on how things should be done.
- They are open to try new things or do old things differently.
- They have a compelling drive to seek out new ideas and test their potential value.
- They are eager to listen to others and profit from their input; regardless of who gets the credit.
When you get right down to it, all it takes to be a maverick is an openness and willingness to look at the world as it is in new ways. But to be a successful maverick takes more than aberrant thinking. Effective mavericks understand that thinking about a new idea or way of doing things is not enough. The true value of a good idea resides in its implementation. As management expert Peter Drucker wrote, “Ideas are cheap and abundant. What is of value is the effective placement of these ideas into situation that develop into action.”
Admittedly, pushing forward with new ideas or instituting a new approach to the way things are done is more difficult in the stultifying environment of most corporate cultures, but that is what distinguishes the true maverick. And it is the reason why so many who believe deeply in their beliefs go off to become successful entrepreneurs. In fact, entrepreneur and maverick are almost synonymous mindsets.
Mavericks on the Fringes
There is no doubt that mavericks are on the fringes of most corporate cultures, but that is what creates the opportunity to be so impactful. Sure, daring to think and do things differently exposes the maverick to risks and ridicule, but you know what? Being a maverick is the only way to be true to yourself and make a difference in how things are done. Even though you may risk the derision and tsk-tsk of your friends, business associates, boss, and an endless string of others; even though there is a risk that you’ll come up with a dumb idea for which you’ll be chastised; even though some may perceive you as a show-off or know-it-all; even though all of this may be true, when you finally succeed. the reward and personal satisfaction is so much better than the abuse suffered. And it’s not even a contest. Just ask Fred Smith, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and any other successful maverick if the rewards and personal satisfaction was worth the ridicule and naysayers they experienced as mavericks?
Fortunately, even if one is not a born maverick, it is an attitude and way of thinking that can be an acquired talent well worth learning and practicing. It may not be easy, but it will be worth the effort. To do so we have to overcome the way our psyche has been hardwired. We have to stop just accepting the way things are and start asking what they could be. It is my contention that the only way to stand out in a conventional world is to be unconventional and the only way to do that is to challenge convention. No one challenges convention better than a maverick.