Samuel Maverick

Samuel Augustus Maverick was 67 when he died. He was a signatory on the Texas Declaration of Independence, a lawyer, politician and businessman. It’s Samuel Maverick who gave us the word “maverick”. It’s all to do with cattle farming. At the time, farmers knew whose steer belonged to who by the brand mark – a symbol or initials or similar burnt onto the skin of the animal using a red hot piece of metal. Except for Maverick. He decided to leave his cattle unbranded. Hence any steer found unbranded was “Maverick’s”. This meant that should cattle stray before the farmer had had a chance to brand them, then they when it came to sorting them, they became “Maverick’s”.

History and culture have a way of adapting words to the times. A Maverick these days is someone who is able to ask the simple questions and challenge preconceptions or assumptions and in so doing arrive at new ways of understanding. This requires self-confidence and the courage to go against the crowd. It needs confidence because challenging the way people think is generally not well received. C.R. Rogers wrote in 1954 that:

“…history points up the fact that the more original the product, and the more far reaching its implications, the more likely it is to be judged by contemporaries as evil…The genuinely significant creation, whether an idea, or a work of art, or a scientific discovery, is most likely to be seen at first as erroneous, bad or foolish. Later it may be seen as obvious or self evident to all.”

But how do we become a Maverick thinker? I think it starts by noticing. The brain loves to make connections and to fill in the missing gaps. We see what we expect to see and we spot the familiar. All this is very useful, without it, everyday existence would be much harder. But it also means we filter out other information. New ideas and opportunities lie in seeing what we have excluded. We need a fresh pair of eyes, or better still we need to practice seeing what we haven’t seen. The British Cycling squad did it by bringing in experts from other disciplines such as swimming, who, unused to cycling, were able to see what the cycling coaches had not seen and so develop new and innovative techniques that contributed to the outstanding success in this summer’s Olympics.

For the rest of us, it starts by asking really simple questions of each and every part of what we do to find out why? And asking why again and again until we get to the assumptions or principles that underpin what is generally accepted as ‘the logical thing to do’, or ‘the wise decision’. To continue with the theme of sport, an excellent recent example is the research that challenges accepted wisdom about the need for sports drinks:

http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e4737

You don’t have to do major research to be a Maverick thinker, sometimes all it takes is a preparedness to look the fool by asking some amazing simple questions. When you do, in my experience, the result is rarely a demonstration of stupidity, rather, it provides an endless stream of possibilities.

Dominic Irvine © Epiphanies LLP 2012 All rights asserted

Read more about maverick thinking here. You may also be interested in the following two articles:

Innovate or die!  Reducing the barriers to open innovation

Relentless curiosity – the business culture of the future