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VINE VOICEon December 3, 2006
It's often hard to tell, when reading a book like this one, whether the authors have really hit on an important insight grounded in solid evidence and research, or instead invented a marketable idea and cherry-picked instances and examples that "prove" their point. Although perhaps the passage of time is the only way to tell for sure, I argue "Mavericks at Work" really has seized on something important. That makes this a valuable read, not only for current and wannabe-future business leaders, but for anyone who ... well ... works for a living.

William Taylor and Polly LaBarre argue that the real head-to-head competition in business today isn't process versus process, or even idea versus idea, but rather "values system versus values system." The business leaders who inspire them and who, they argue, are leading the way into the future, are the ones who have rethought the very idea of business, the market, and both internal and external collaboration. A big part of their book applies the model of open-source software and technology-development to the business, and describes how various corporations have harnessed technology and the world's intellectual resources to solve business problems.

But the technological angle is only part of what makes someone a "maverick at work." Another major focus of the book is on companies that have created an energetic and innovative corporate culture that truly inspires employees and delights customers. Herb Kelleher's Southwest Airlines is always the darling of this sort of analysis, but Taylor and LaBarre also introduce us to Commerce Bank in New York, Anthropologie, the GSD&M advertising agency, and others. These places, the authors argue, are changing what "work" means, and so creating not only customer and employee loyalty, but also (and therefore) business success.

The word *maverick* derives from Texan rancher and politician Sam Maverick, who allowed his unbranded cattle to roam semi-wild instead of branding them and penning them in fenced-in ranges. That sort of independent spirit describes the companies and business leaders profiled in this book. It remains to be seen whether theirs is the way of the future, but Taylor and LaBarre have made a solid (and energizing!) case that it is.
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on October 5, 2006
The role of Mavericks within the world of business is a seductive area for study, and here two founder journalists for Fast Company take us on a whirlwind tour of some outstanding examples; some well known and others making for fresh and inspiring copy for the jaded business reader. There's an underlying theme here - that old school business methods will lead to financial quagmires. In that context the likes of Ford (yesterday's hero company in books like Built to Last) look like today's losers.

From this readers point of view the authors may have logged thousands of hours researching their subject but still took the easy route: pointing to dozens of examples of successful maverick firms in order to posit that these people have the attributes, the corporate cultures, the sense of difference, that make them true winners. But it would be just as valuable to find Mavericks Who Failed - and I wonder if these original minds could also teach us something. I think this is biased sampling.

Make no mistake, this book is inspiring - but in making it case it reads mostly like an affirmation for today's managers who want to shake off the dust from 90s buisness excess. The writers swing the pendulum too far, and as an instructive business book I found it underplays the other factors that make for the business successes identified here: systems, (the man from Procter & Gamble would have had systems drummed into him) cash-flow, customer service and also the obscene element of luck that business writers too often forget about. Much as they like to be, managers - whether Jack Welch or Steve Jobs - are not masters of the universe.
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on January 8, 2007
(Also available as CD)

Anytime I hear the word "Maverick," I think either Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun (before his couch-jumping days on Oprah) or a rebellious outcast in the workplace--so of course I was drawn to this book. The lime-green cover calling to me from the airport bookstore didn't hurt either.

Authors Taylor and Labarre, former editors of Fast Company magazine, encourage us to "think bigger, aim higher, and win more decisively" by following the maverick methods of 32 organizations including Southwest Airlines, Cranium (makers of popular board games), Commerce Bank, Craigslist, and others highlighted in this book. Their goal for Mavericks At Work is to open the reader's eyes, engage his imagination, and equip him with the tools to act boldly by sharing "next" rather than "best" practices relevant for the 21st century. After reading this book, I believe they've succeeded.

In 12 chapters, the authors discuss the value of disruptive points of view. By shunning traditional strategies, maverick companies like Cranium and Southwest Airlines have completely revitalized mature industries in order to reconnect with customers. The authors also highlight the value of open-source innovation in helping companies like Goldcorp tap into new ideas from external sources. Subsequent chapters emphasize the importance of innovation networks, continuous learning, emotional branding, and the power of people. The Appendix offers valuable resources for follow-on reading.

The writing is engaging and upbeat although I found it very difficult to follow the flow of the content and organization of this book. Chapters didn't transition smoothly so I had to re-read previous sections in order to figure out how the next chapter applied. It's possible that this follows the "maverick" style the authors are promoting. In other words, the authors are practicing what they preach by challenging the reader through a non-linear and original thought process. Still, Mavericks At Work is the treatise on how to be unique and profitable in a sea of copycat competitors.

This book is for corporate executives, entrepreneurs, or anyone desiring to break the mold by applying unconventional ideas and unusual strategies in order to reshape an industry, revitalize products and services, or even reinvent one's own perspective.

Armchair Interviews says: Highly recommended.
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on January 28, 2007
I generally rate business book by two factors: How many pages I've highlighted by folding them over and whether it causes me to stop and think about how the content applies to my world. Mavericks at Work scores very high on both points.

Here are some of the more interesting excerpts I flagged as I read this one:

* Southwest didn't flourish just because its fares were cheaper...Southwest flourished because it reimagined what it means to be an airline.

* If you want to renew and re-energize an industry...don't hire people from that industry.

* If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would really miss you and why?

* The most effective leaders are the ones who are the most insatiable learners, and experienced leaders learn the most by interacting with people whose interests, backgrounds and experiences are the least like theirs.

* We must begin all things in ignorance...otherwise we never start at the beginning.

* The next frontier for making products more emotional is to turn them into something social -- to create a sense of shared ownership and participation among customers themselves.

* Why would great people want to work here?

You could (and probably should!) spend hours thinking about the answers to those two questions (If your company went out of business... and Why would great people want to work here?). I also found the authors' thoughts on the use of ad-hoc teams to build new products/services within an existing business, and thereby avoid The Innovator's Dilemma, to be very helpful.

The authors have a very readable style and provide loads of examples from companies and executives they interviewed for the book. Highly recommended.
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As William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre explain in this book, Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-70) was a wealthy land speculator in southwest Texas who cared little about cattle. "When someone repaid a debt with 400 head of cattle rather than cash, Maverick's caretakers allowed them to wander unbranded. Over time, locals who saw unbranded cattle would say, `Those are Maverick's' - and a term was born that today refers to politicians, entrepreneurs, and innovators who refuse to run with the herd." Until reading this book, I did not know the origin of the term and tended to define it too narrowly as a descriptive of those who are by nature unconventional, eccentric, odd, etc. One of the basic arguments in this book is that, "when it comes to thriving in a hypercompetitive marketplace, `playing it safe' is no longer playing it smart [and in business] mavericks do the work that matters most - the work of originality, creativity, and experimentation. They demonstrate that you can build companies around high ideals and fierce competitive ambitions, that the most powerful way to create economic value is to embrace a set of values that go beyond just amassing power, and that business, at its best, is too exciting, too important, and too much fun to be left to the dead hand of business as usual."

That is certainly true of the decision-makers in the 32 organizations on which Taylor and LaBarre function in this book. The strategies, practices, and leadership styles may in some respects seem "unconventional, eccentric, odd, etc." However, they help to explain how organizations as diverse as Anthropologie, Commerce Bank, DPR Corporation, GSD&M, IBM's Extreme Blue, ING Direct, the Pixar Animation Studio, and Southwest Airlines have achieved extraordinary success in the "hypercompetitive marketplace" to which the authors refer. However, and this is a key point, Taylor and LaBarre correctly note that there's a significant difference "between learning from someone else's ideas and applying them effectively somewhere else." Presumably Cirque du Soleil's founder, Guy Liberté, and his associates rigorously examined dozens of other organizations while formulating and later refining their own strategies, practices, and leadership styles. In fact, that process never ends in "maverick" organizations such as Cirque du Soleil as their leaders continue to learn much of great value, especially what would not work and/or would not be appropriate for their organization. This really is a key point for those who read this book: by all means pay close attention to the various "Maverick Messages" that Taylor and LaBarre provide and explore the various "Maverick Material" they identify, then adapt -- rather than attempt to duplicate -- whatever will help make their own organizations more competitive.

I was especially interested in the material provided in Chapter Ten, The Company You Keep: Business as If People Mattered. Specifically I was curious to know how various "maverick" organizations recruited, interviewed, hired, and then developed the people they need to achieve what Jim Collins would describe as their "BHAGs," their Big Hairy Audacious Goals. What kind of people do they look for? Here's one response, from Jane Harper, founder of IBM's Extreme Blue: "This is about finding people who could run the company someday. What we offer is cool projects, small teams, and dynamic places to work. We look for virtuoso skills, unique life experience, and genuine passion. Our people groove on this work. They love it. And you can't fake that." IBM describes Extreme Blue as an incubator for talent, technology, and business innovation. Its manifesto is "start something big." Taylor and LaBarre observe, "In the long term, the aim of Extreme Blue is to demonstrate new ways for IBM itself to work - to accelerate the turnaround strategy unleashed by the now legendary Lou Gerstner and advanced by his successor, Sam Palmisano."

Later in this chapter, Taylor and LaBarre pose two questions that address the challenge of what they describe as "enhancing the character of competition": (1) Why would great people want to be part of this company? and (2) Where and how to find great people in the first place? Consider these brief comments about Cirque du Soleil:

"Our mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses, and evoke emotions." Lyn Heward

"Talent is everywhere. That is why we look everywhere. If we want to reinvent ourselves - which is what everybody at Cirque is trying to do - then we have to constantly bring in new things. We never close off any avenue where we might discover new talent. Out responsibility is to have our eyes open." Line Giasson

"There are no stars here. The show is the star. That's why our evaluation goes deeper than a talent evaluation. We need to learn about the person behind the artist. How many somersaults you can do is not as important as open-mindedness to our process, the tough-mindedness to get through the job, and what we call a `fire to perform.' That's what we're looking for." Lyn Heward

In the Introduction, Taylor and LaBarre promise to provide a book "that aims to be true to the maverick spirit of the agenda that it champions and the leaders it chronicles." They fully deliver on that promise as they examine with rigor and eloquence 32 organizations that exude "an undeniable sense of purpose. But it's a sense of purpose that provokes: each company's strategy tends to be as edgy as it is enduring, as disruptive as it is distinctive, as timely ass it is timeless." Congratulations to Taylor and LaBarre on what I consider to be a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
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on October 10, 2007
"Mavericks at Work" hit a home run for me. I love to think and act like a Maverick. I love to do "work that matters". This book introduced me to others who think like I do and have found business success. Thanks!

"Mavericks at Work" starts off with great a great introduction and keeps on going. I love the quote from Alan Kay (introduction): "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Why does business spend so much time trying to figure out what the competition will be bringing to the market place instead of trying to "invent the future"? Why not invent the market? Then you don't have any competition!

My favorite chapters were Chapters 1, 3, 4, and 10.

Chapter One - "Not Just a Company, a Cause: Strategy as Advocacy." This chapter does a great job of explaining why YOU need to create a Cause, not just a company. Causes make raving fans. Raving fans bring profits

Chapter Three - "Maverick Messages (1): Sizing Up Your Strategy". Take notes on this chapter, you will be glad you did. The authors give five questions every company should ask when sizing up your strategy.

Chapter Four - "Innovation Inc.: Open Source Gets Down to Business". Do you need some "innovative" ideas on how to get your company to embrace innovation as a way of life? This chapter shows you how. Don't be shy about putting some of these ideas to work.

Chapter Ten - "The Company You Keep: Business as if People Mattered". Great chapter on TALENT! Business today needs to put Talent at the top of the agenda for every strategy meeting, every business plan, every performance review, etc... All company's say that their people are their most important asset. Few prove it through their actions. This chapter shows some organizations that know and act as if People Matter and the payoff are increased profits.

Larry Kevin Adams
Author of "Selling: Powerful New Strategies for Sales Success".
theactionator.com
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on June 19, 2007
Like a host of the new "psychosocial" business books, Mavericks at Work describes what it takes to have a breakthrough corporate success in the new millennium. The focus is not so much on the business styles of the 50's and 60's, as illustrated by the work of, say Peter Drucker, but rather it focuses on the new gestalt of branding through an intense devotion to customer service. By examining companies from the large scale of Proctor & Gamble and the World Bank, as well as new upstarts like Craigslist and ING Direct to open source communities like Wikipedia and TopCoder, authors William Taylor and Polly LaBarre take a new approach to finding out what the basis of the new energy and focus of companies who's products or services allow them to differentiate themselves and pull away from the pack. As veterans of the cutting edge business magazine Fast Company, the authors are well suited to have the inroads and knowledge in witnessing what works (and what doesn't) for the new breed of entrepreneurs or those within established enterprises trying to re-write the rules of business in the new world order. In addition, the pair operate one of the best follow-on websites we've seen featuring outtakes from the book, a blog, podcasts, interviews and information about their 'Mavericks Live' special events around the country [...]. A must for anyone thinking about Business 2.0. - Tim Devine
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on April 22, 2007
Many of us who have grown up in the corporate world believe that the resources we "control" determine our future success. What Taylor and LaBarre have proposed is that perhaps control has out lived its impact. No longer is it sufficient to expect that employees will do a great job just to get a paycheck. Or that customers will buy your better, newer, more effective or cheaper product - at least not for long. According to the authors and the examples they expose, the walls that defined the corporation are quickly coming down. Control may be a thing of the past. Employees who believe in what you are doing will become a force stronger than any formerly commanded and controlled unit. Customers will remain fiercely loyal to a brand that provides them with more than just plain function. And success for your company resides in how effectively you can motivate both to help you find the opportunities to deepen that relationship. As I read the book, I often found myself wondering if this was just another fad. Some of what the authors espoused seemed a little new age for the buttoned down business person in me. But then I wondered did I really believe that things like open source and second worlds - would ever exist in the minds of corporate strategists?.
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on July 14, 2013
What can I say? I'm a sucker for business books about smart, quirky and innovative business cultures and strategies and loved every single company profiled in this book.
The diversity of examples from a bank all the way to Cirque do Soliel was so much fun to read for a business model geek girl like me! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the case studies and hopefully get some good stuff to apply to your business practices like I did.
The biggest take away was keeping a firm hand on the culture you want and to keep hiring those kinds of people because each of the case studies were successful because of their cultural uniqueness within their respective industries.
The only ding (and thus not a 5 star rating) is that the book definitely describes each company more than helping us, the readers, learn how to develop such great company culture ourselves. I don't know if the authors are consultants or what not (usually they are) but maybe that's why they wrote it that way to then get hired to actually help people like me develop the kinds of organizations they highlighted?
Either way, a good, fun and pretty quick read!
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on January 4, 2007
What good is a book full of insightful and exciting information if it's too boring and complicated to read? This book gets to the point and does it in an entertaining way. Awesome details on what makes great companies stand out in an overcrowded me-too, over-supplied world. Thank God for authors who not only want to make a great point but want to do it in a plain and easy to read manner. Best book I've read in years!
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