Lessons from the Rule Breakers
These 'Mavericks at Work' use fresh thinking to win at business
You're fed up with business as usual. You've got a bundle of fresh ideas and bottomless ambition. You're determined to shake up your company and make a difference.
But do you have the moxie, smarts, and staying power to be a great innovator?
To find out, compare yourself with some of the most restless and creative business minds at work today: 32 remarkable entrepreneurs who have battled bureaucracy and stasis, and won, while redefining success in their industries. In their stories, captured in Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, some common traits emerge. Needless to say, all the executives are talented and driven. But authors William Taylor, founding editor of Fast Company, and Polly LaBarre, a former writer there, also discovered people who exude passion and creativity, with just enough humility to hear what other people have to say.
No single profile captures the essence of these cagey innovators. But U.S. News has distilled this insightful book's key lessons into five maxims of mavericks:
Obliterate orthodoxy. As Vernon Hill was expanding Commerce Bank, he realized there was no need for yet another financial institution with the same weekday hours and basic set of services that Citibank, Bank of America, or Chase has. But he did see a need for outlets that catered to customers the way Home Depot and Target do. So Commerce has branches that are open on evenings and weekends. Coin machines in every store let anybody, whether a customer or not, sort and stack coins free. And employees are drilled on how to offer customers extra conveniences. "We don't copy the stupid banks," Hill told Taylor and LaBarre. (All quotes in this story are taken from Mavericks at Work.) "We copy the great retailers. This is a convenience business." That attitude has worked. From a single branch at its founding in 1973, Commerce has grown into a major regional bank with $35 billion in deposits and plans for 700 branches by 2009.
Successful mavericks are fearless about breaking with outdated traditions and confining standards. Instead of the cookie-cutter consistency found at sandwich shops like Subway and Quiznos, for instance, Chicago-based Potbelly Sandwich Works has built powerful brand loyalty (and lured $60 million in venture funding) with a network of stores that are all different. And regular customers learn they can order special items not on the menu. "I want the elements of our stores to be imperfect", says CEO Bryant Keil. "That's part of the charm." Southwest Airlines-cofounded by the granddaddy of mavericks, Herb Kelleher-is a role model for rule breakers like Hill and Keil. Over the years, Southwest has repeatedly upended the scheduling practices, pricing strategies, and service standards of the bigger airlines. And it prefers to hire teachers or waiters or police officers instead of airline veterans steeped in industry tradition. The result: Southwest is the only U.S. airline that has been consistently profitable over the past 20 years.
Tap other people's brains. Procter & Gamble makes some of America's most traditional products: Tide detergent, Ivory soap, Pampers diapers. Yet the huge company has also developed a cutting-edge skunk works operation to mine the latest research and scientific ideas. Sixty handpicked "technology entrepreneurs" scour the globe looking for new technologies or ideas that could help generate fresh products. Most big, old-line companies confine such research to their own R&D labs. Yet even though P&G employs 7,500 researchers, that's no longer good enough, says Larry Huston, vice president of innovation: "For every one person we have in a particular area, there are 200 people on the outside of equal minds or better." Huston's goal: to eventually import half of all new product ideas from outside the company.