Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win Paperback – Jan 2 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
A collection of case studies featuring the same formulaic ebullience endemic to business books since blurber Tom Peters' seminal work In Search of Excellence, this reader from FastCompany magazine cofounder Taylor and influential business writer LaBarre profiles some of the more interesting companies doing business today: Cirque de Soleil, Commerce Bank, Pixar, Anthropologie, Southwest Airlines, Jones Soda, Apple Computer and Craigslist among them. Such companies may have disparate cultures, but what unites them is originality, self-knowledge and passion. Whether by remaining small, recruiting zealously, or functioning like a kind of cult, such businesses succeed by imbuing the corporate rank and file with an entrepreneur's vision, avoiding the twin vices of mediocrity and complacency. Conversational but rigorous, Taylor and Labarre's chipper exploration of imagination at work holds value for novice and journeyman business leaders.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Although the title sounds like a self-help guide to the dysfunctionally employed, the aim of this book is actually to challenge business leaders to think bigger and aim higher. Those are certainly not new challenges, so what makes this book different from all the others that encourage entrepreneurs to "break the mold"? The authors have identified positive developments in a business environment that is struggling to emerge from slow growth, dashed expectations, and corporate scandal. Although they show how big-name innovators such as HBO, IBM, and Proctor & Gamble are finding new ways to stand out, a new breed is emerging that is proving that smarter can beat bigger. Companies such as Netflix, Google, and craigslist really are reinventing the wheel and have caused the business community to stand up and notice. The authors' vision is that these new innovators, once dismissed as upstarts, hold the key to reinstituting business as a source of inspiration and progress, creating a path for others to follow. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Taylor and Labarre tell the stories of companies like Jones Soda, ING and Goldcorp, who were bold enough to turn a deaf ear to critics, and to forge their own paths, because they believed in their vision. You'll be astounded by the choices some of these companies had to make that would have led to short term gains, but resulted in a deviation from their core values. It's where I learned the phrase: "You don't have principles until they cost you money."
Reading this book will inspire you and at the same time make you scrutinize your own business practices.
Going against the grain isn't easy. That's why they call it being a maverick.
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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