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Life As A Maverick

Friday, January 1, 2016

A "maverick" is an unorthodox or independently-oriented person. The term can also mean an unbranded calf, yearling, immature cattle.

That's a big difference. Let's examine the former.

Mavericks in our lives don't seek to adhere to conventional wisdom (which is seldom conventional, and seldom wisdom). They ask "Why?" before the ask "How?" That is, they seek the reasons and rationale before they take action. That's because they my discover that the "Why?" requires an entirely different approach—or no approach at all.

The don't try to "fix," they seek to improve.

A very excellent client CEO approached me and asked if I'd conduct a strategy intervention for his executive team. If I had said that it would require 90 days and cost $150,000 he wouldn't have blinked, but I asked why he felt he needed it.

"We haven't revisited strategy for almost a year," he said, "and I think it's time we took another look."

"Larry," I replied, "aren't you having a record year, beating every industry average, and fighting off people at the door who want to come work here?"

"Well, yes."

"Then just go back to work. Your current strategy is obviously highly effective and I refuse to simply go through the motions because some book or guru says to do an exercise periodically."

He did just that, and I did well over $150,000 on other projects over the ensuing years because of the trust that unorthodox reply engendered.

Innovation not nihilism

Mavericks create new paths, novel procedures, unusual solutions. They don't seek to destroy the existing order, but to radicalize or explode it as appropriate. The goal isn't change for change sake, but change for results sake. I turned solo consulting inside-out 25 years ago when Million Dollar Consulting advocated value-based fees overly hourly charges, relationships with executive buyers over human resource vending, and options in proposals over "take it or leave it" offers.

Most people move in herds, flocks, and schools. We're stunned when thousands of fish can simultaneously turn without any apparent trigger, or a flock of birds perform aerial acrobatics without mid-air crashes. But the true stunner is that these mass tactics are so often emulated by sentient humans.

One of my favorite phrases—I never learned the source—is that perhaps those people acting strangely are merely dancing to music that the rest of us cannot hear. This is a variation on the beat of the distant drummer, or the road less taken. It's a common theme through history. We are amazed, repelled, and impressed by those who act outside the boundaries of our typical paradigms.

Standing alone

The maverick is self-validating. That is, we don’t seek approval or sanction from the herd. We are comfortable in our own skin. We don't need standing ovations or perfect smile sheets (or any smile sheets). We know when we're successful and when we're not. There is no concern when someone takes umbrage or departs in a huff. Our role is to provoke, not to console. We confront, we don't commiserate.

But most of all, we don't mind standing alone, following our calling, creating our path. We welcome followers but not zealots. We learn through teaching and improve through coaching. We don't stand alone to bask in isolation, but rather to escape the herd, the norms, the conformity, the simultaneous turns.

If everyone were a maverick the term would lose its meaning, And if those were are mavericks were uncomfortable for standing out, we'd die out.

The true maverick stands alone because there is no choice. We must create out own direction, make our own way, escape the norms. It's not lonely. It's invigorating.

 
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