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Can you spot the next Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Michael Crouch? Check your ‘maverick’ quotient?


What’s your “maverick” quotient? We’re not talking about Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

We mean, whether or not you can “recognise” a maverick — a creative, independent thinker who can be brilliant but troublesome and can keep firms aggressive and competitive.

We also take that to be an intuitive talent to get the best out of people like Steve Jobs, Sir Richard Branson and our own Michael Crouch, the Zip Industries founder who established a Chair in Innovation at the Australian School of Business — rather than drive them out the door, as former Apple CEO John Sculley, infamously, did to Jobs.

Given the evidence, we lean toward the belief that the maverick quotient is rather low in the corporate world, and many might want to get their ears to the ground.

A novel study of so-called mavericks, by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of New South Wales, offers rare insights into the minds of the unconventional. It also offers simple tips to the ones that seek the mavericks. So, the next time you are hiring, you could conceivably put the candidates to a simple test: Ask the persons to try and listen to a closed-door conversation to try to listen to a conversation, or to someone’s chest to hear a heartbeat.

Risk-taking a key attribute

The one that hears with his or her left ear is the one more likely to be the maverick. The use of the left ear denotes a preference for using the right hemisphere of the brain, known as right lateral preference, associated with creative, problem-solving activities, say the researchers who surveyed 458 employees from a range of organizations.

However, the mavericks are likely to be “generate novel, unconventional and creative solutions only when they are also low in anxiety or neuroticism and therefore feel more comfortable to unleash their potential,” suggesting ways to get the best out of such people.

“Being a maverick is more than just having an idea or a hunch pay off. It is about taking real risks and achieving in a way that is unique and unexpected,” said Dr. Elliroma Gardiner of LSE and Professor Chris Jackson of UNSW. Besides, “our research is interesting because it challenges our preconceptions of certain characteristics and provides evidence that dysfunctional behavior, like risk-taking, can actually be adaptive,” they added.

The Maverickism Scale

Participants in the study rated themselves on a seven-item Maverickism Scale. The study found more mavericks among men and also came up with empirical evidence to support the idea of maverickism is a multifaceted phenomenon. This is because the results show that it is related to a number of personality traits, has strong ties to creativity and risk-taking, and is partially biologically based.

The two researchers analysed the personality traits and biological and environmental factors that predict maverickism. Here are some key ones they identified:

  • Mavericks are more likely to be extroverts. “Although extroversion may seem incongruent with maverickism, we argue that the talent of individuals high in extroversion to be persuasive and influencing is likely to be an advantage when trying to recruit and win others over to their way of thinking.”
  • Mavericks are more open to new experience. This quality demonstrates “the broad-mindedness of individuals towards the unconventional and fostering of new ideas.”
  • Mavericks tend to be poor team players. “Although individuals high in maverickism have a demonstrated ability to communicate well and influence others, we do not believe that this necessarily implies a positive association with agreeableness. Instead, we argue that for an individual to engage in disruptive and non-conformist behaviour, they would need to be antagonistic, egocentric, and sceptical of others’ intentions rather than cooperative.”
  • Mavericks are risk-takers. The final characteristic found in mavericks is that they are likely to take more risks and, are also likely to persevere with risk-taking even after negative feedback.

“Although we are not suggesting that businesses rush to fill their organisations with ‘mavericks’, what we are suggesting is that in the current climate, where many businesses are asking their workers to do more with less, encouraging workers to be creative and giving them some leeway to take measured risks may have some potential benefits,” the researchers said.

“Understandably, some aspects of the maverick personality profile, such as risk-taking and low agreeableness, might make some hiring managers quite nervous. However, our research suggests that when combined with other traits, such as extroversion, creativity and openness, the results can be quite positive,” they concluded.

So, are you a maverick? An extroverted risk taker, who’s open to new experiences but doesn’t tend to play well with others? Or are you a different kind of entrepreneur?