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Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win Paperback – January 2, 2008
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About the Author
William C. Taylor is a cofounder of Fast Company and coauthor (with Polly LaBarre) of Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. A graduate of Princeton University and the MIT Sloan School of Management, he hosts a blog on being "Practically Radical" on HarvardBusiness Online. He lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with his wife and two daughters.
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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!
Follow Southwest airlines' example by not hiring industry veterans in your organization. Industry veterans are harder to retrain, and come to your organization with preconceived ideas. Hiring people new to the industry fills your organization with fresh ideas.
Don't hesitate to fire your customers if they don't fit into your organization's culture. ING, a bank unlike others, does exactly that. ING also innovates by being different from other banks. They open on Sunday for example, and deposits are in a person's account within 24 hours (other banks take up to 3 business days). If groceries and malls can open on Sundays, why not banks?
Pixar Animation, unlike other companies in its industry (who hire on contract basis), hires full time crew. This creates a team atmosphere where everyone gets to know each other, and thus can be more productive.
Use open source. A Gold mining company in Canada did just that when it asked people from all over the world over the internet for their insight on where gold could be found. With worldwide expertise available, they found their answer! Cirque du Soleil similarly scouts the whole world for talent. Talent is everywhere, and you have to go everywhere to find it.
Any entrepreneur should be asking the following two questions: (a) If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would really miss you and why? (b) Why would people want to work for you?
Don't hire great people, or else you have to change your whole work environment into greatness. Hire good and smart people, but they don't have to be great. You have to be able to shun traditional ideas.
Finally, just in case some of you are wondering, Samuel Maverick, a Texan lawyer and politician, is the namesake of the eponym maverick, meaning an unbranded range animal. Gradually the term was enlarged to include anyone who could not be trusted to remain one of his group.
Alan Kay, the celebrated computer scientist, said some 35 years ago: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
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The authors, editors of Fast Company magazine, take us through the edgy and disruptive strategies and practices that define a new management...Read more