6 Traits of a Maverick That Make for Successful Entrepreneurs
A Note From The Editor
Think your company has what it takes to make our Top Company Cultures list? Apply now.Apply now »
Are you often told that you truly “think outside of the box?” Do you refuse to play by the rules, instead preferring to take your own course of action to get results?
Well, you might be a maverick! According to a fascinating study published in the British Journal of Psychology by Elliroma Gardiner and Chris J. Jackson, employees with “maverickism” can be a company’s secret weapon for success.
Gardiner and Jackson’s research focuses on mavericks in the workplace, but their findings can easily be applied to entrepreneurs as well. Their research backs up what many of us have known to be true all along: Those who are willing to take action, step out of their comfort zone and risk doing things a bit differently in pursuit of a goal are the ones who will make a difference.
While the maverick has long been regarded by corporate culture as something of a dark horse -- especially in the context of an organization, this line of thinking is well on its way out. With the rise of innovators and influencers such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, companies and individuals alike are paying attention to many of the defining characteristics that these groundbreaking entrepreneurs share, and finding that the one thing many well-known revolutionaries have is a streak of maverickism.
Startup culture has given rise to a new brand of thinkers: those who are no longer content to sit back and merely accept the traditional way of doing things. Mavericks are committed to getting results -- and aren’t afraid to bend the rules to make things happen. In short, Maverick tendencies aren’t something to be ashamed of, instead -- they may help drive one towards success.
Here are some defining traits of a maverick. Which ones do you recognize in yourself?
According to Gardiner and Jackson’s research, openness to experience is a key personality trait in mavericks. Mavericks are relentlessly curious. They enjoy trying new things, and doing old things differently. A fascination with the world and a compulsion to understand how it works helps to drive them forward and often leads to exciting innovations.
Mavericks are creative and imaginative, and they’re great at approaching situations from fresh, new angles. Steve Jobs is an iconic example of a maverick. Instead of merely improving existing systems, he reinvented the system. Some of his methods and ideas were controversial, simply because they were so revolutionary, but there’s no denying that they turned out to be groundbreaking.
3. Willingness to take risks
For an example of a successful risk-taker in action look no further than Richard Branson, who took a huge risk when founding Virgin Atlantic. Virgin entered the market as a direct competitor of British Airways, a bold move that likely made Branson feel quite uncertain as to whether he’d succeed. The company experienced significant financial losses in its early days, and many were pessimistic about its future, but Virgin went on to become the venerated brand and financial success that it is today.
Branson’s willingness to take risks is a large part of what makes him a maverick. Being a maverick isn’t about luck, and according to Gardiner and Jackson, it’s more than just having an idea or a hunch pay off. It’s about taking real risks, and achieving success -- often in a way that is unique and unexpected.
4. Big picture oriented
Mavericks often tend to be "big picture thinkers." They’re strategic and visionary, constantly coming up with new ideas and projects, and are extremely goal-oriented, generally possessing a low tolerance for tedious errands and mundane activities. Mavericks are most in their element when strategizing or working towards completion of their latest project. Knowing the big overall goal helps mavericks keep their eye on the prize.
Related: Hello, Entrepreneur. You Are a Hero.
5. Unafraid to break rules
Gardiner and Jackson’s research suggests that often, mavericks are willing to ignore convention, and even break the rules in pursuit of their goals.
Arkadi Kuhlmann, founder and CEO of ING Direct USA (now Capital One 360) is an example of a rule breaker with a cause. ING Direct was one of America’s fastest-growing retail banks, but Kuhlmann often said that he was regarded as “sort of the bad guy” of the banking establishment. His goal, he said, was to help people save money -- not spend it, a somewhat unconventional approach for a financial establishment! But this strategy worked -- customers loved ING, and in 2012 the company was acquired by Capital One for a reported $9 billion.
Mavericks are extremely driven and often relentless in the pursuit of their goals. Once they chart their course, they refuse to let setbacks stop them from reaching their goals. If they run into a roadblock, they’ll go around it -- or knock it down.
Most successful founders have dealt with their share of knockdowns, but how they responded to those setbacks is what enabled them to go on to find success. Having the courage to keep going, even when things get tough, is a defining characteristic of a maverick.
While we’ve been taught to toe the line, sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone to make a difference. To get ahead in business, you might have to play nice. But to make history, you have to take risks.
Perhaps Branson said it best: “Sometimes the riskiest decision you can make is to do nothing.”
For mavericks, taking risks and defying convention comes with the territory. It’s often second nature. Being afraid of risk is normal, but refusing to let it stop you from standing up and making a difference -- that’s a sign of a true maverick.
It’s time for us to accept our maverick tendencies, to harness our potential -- the side of us that wants to accomplish truly great things. It’s time to unleash our inner maverick, because at the end of the day, it’s the mavericks that are changing the world.
I’m proud to call myself a maverick. Don't just take my word for it. The American Business Association said so themselves by naming me “Maverick of the Year” in 2013.
Do you have maverick tendencies? Have they helped you to get ahead? Let us know in the comments section below.
Related: 10 Legendary Maverick Entrepreneurs