Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) was a scion of Southern aristocracy who headed west and helped invent the place (and state of mind) that is Texas. In the process, he lent his name to a uniquely American concept—the maverick.
The word “maverick” defines both a unique individual—in the herd, yet apart from it; and a less “pasture-ized” free range.
In the mid-1800s, the free range was a fragile moment and place in history, a fissure between wilderness and the fence. It was a place of supreme danger, and virtually unlimited opportunity. It attracted the brave (and the foolhardy), dreamers (and outlaws), and pioneers (and fugitives). It was the habitat of mavericks. It was the wellspring of American greatness.
We are working on a book that seeks to explore the elusive character and characteristics of the free range and the maverick; not of Texas, but of corporate innovation. We are using the experience of one man—a master maverick who brought new ideas, fresh thinking, a host of new products (and millions in profits) to the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. How this man, Bill Wilson, survived and prospered is a most fascinating untold story in recent American business history. The man was, pure and simple, a maverick to the core of his being.
Discovering Wilson’s story has prompted us to dig deep into the concept of corporate innovation. What have we learned? First and foremost, we have renewed our appreciation for a key variable in innovation management—the role of the corporate free range (time and place): the uncharted territory of ideas, opportunities and innovations. It is largely invisible, yet it exists, we believe, within and outside every organization.
To the conventional mind, this free range seems unformed, unfocused and unsafe. It is a subversion of the organization-chart; an assault on strategic plans; a heresy against the very concept of “management.”
The maverick, however, is able to roam this intellectual territory freely from free range to pasture and back again. The maverick seeks the uncertainty of the limitless. He happily trades the lush grass behind the fence for the brambles and cacti of unfettered freedom.
The maverick seeks not “freedom from,” but “freedom to…” Freedom to dream. Freedom to turn dreams into powerful realities…new ideas, new products, new opportunities. The maverick—the ultimate subversive—can bridge the gap between the wilderness of untested ideas and the pasture of products. The maverick lives in the space where innovation becomes real.
This is not a “job description.” It is not a position that can be designed into a consultant’s system du jour. The maverick can’t be recruited, trained or mandated.
The maverick just is. The challenge for managers is to recognize the mavericks among the branded; and then work to protect them.
Find out how mavericks survive and thrive on the “corporate free range.”
The Maverick Way: Profiting from the Power of the Corporate Misfit was subsequently published in 2000. To order a copy of the book, please call (415) 387-1270 or order on Amazon.
This article was originally published in Innovating Perspectives in September 1998. For this and other back issues of our newsletter, please visit our website at innovationsthatwork.com or call (415) 387-1270.
Richard E. “Dick” Cheverton is the author of The Maverick Way along with Lanny Vincent and Bill Wilson. Chev was a top editor at the Orange County Register for 16 years. The newspaper, based in Santa Ana, California, was noted for its continual product and organizational innovations.