“Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win”

Mavericks at Work explores some of the most successful, innovative businesses in the US, presenting the reader with the goals, strategies and methods that have made companies powerhouses in their respective industries.  The authors, Taylor and LaBarre, both respectable business analysts have their finger on the pulse of business evolution. They go further than simply citing creativity as a key to success, and truly delve into the minds of  nonconformist leaders, revealing how these mavericks distinguish their companies and businesses through marketing, strategy and recruitment, and company culture.

The authors tackle the idea that “me-too” strategies—business strategies that follow the norm of the specific industry—will no longer be viable and competitive in a modernizing world.  They first discuss the results of what they call strategy as advocacy, the idea that a business can be built on agitating the norm, on specific values that go against the grain of traditional business goals by championing a moral goal. One surprising example is ING Direct USA, a retail bank described as one of the fastest growing in the United States. Based in the credit card capital of the country (Wilmington, Alabama) ING Direct is a customer-focused internet savings bank that charges no customer fees, puts no minimum on deposits (they will selectively refuse large deposits for the benefit of many smaller ones because the target customer they are trying to reach is the average person) and is as paperless as possible, making forms and applications accessible online to make the process simple for the customer. In a time where banks and credit card companies are encouraging people to spend, spend, spend, ING Direct rejects issuing credit cards and car loans alike to create an environment that allows people to save.  In this way, the authors explain that “the logic of competition has evolved from the imitative world of product versus product to the revolutionary fervor of business model versus business models to, now, the promising realm of value system versus value systems” (9). This, is strategy as advocacy and every business mentioned in the book shares an “undeniable sense of purpose”(9).

With distinct strategic purpose carved out, companies need to convey this to customers and employees. Mavericks discusses how the ways executives and employees talk about their business influences how they think  about it; mentioning the roles of distinctive company lingo, of building a company culture, and environment that reflects company goals and values. Whole Foods has its “Declaration of Interdependence” (56); a captivating mission statement that engages employees, while board game company Cranium reinforces its fun-loving identity through comical titles given to employees and to loyal customers or “Craniacs”.

The book also points out businesses and executives, who have, through open-source technology, been able to tap into the unlimited resource of people and ideas the digital world has to offer. One example of creative open-sourcing is American gold mining company, Goldcorp. When the company’s scientists couldn’t agree on a digging strategy for a newly-acquired mine, Chairman and CEO, Rob McEwan used the internet to engage scientists throughout the world in a competition using money and international recognition as incentives. In a bold move, McEwan uploaded 50 years worth of information related to the company property, and encouraged scientists and engineers to submit their proposed digging plans. The results speak for themselves;   “more than half of the targets identified by the award-winning submissions were new to Goldcorp—sites the company had not considered drilling...several years after the completion of the Challenge, Goldcorp is still drilling targets identified by the winners” (65).

Mavericks at Work is a revolutionary read for the business enthusiast. It is not only fascinating and informative, it is inspirational. It brings the reader face to face with the exciting, sometimes uncomfortable idea that times are changing innovation and distinctiveness is critical for success. Although Ethiopia is not at the level of development that nurtured the environment of the discussed companies, the message is equally significant. This book is highly recommended to business-minded individuals because it doesn’t just encourage thinking outside the box, it presents the idea that they can create an entirely different box and that, is what makes Mavericks absolutely invaluable.

Taylor, William, and Polly G. LaBarre. Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. London: Harper, 2008. Print.

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