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Saturday, 19 September, 2020
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The Maverick Factory

The Maverick Factory. Are Mavericks born that way? Or can they be created?

I am not certain that there is a link between the where, when and what sequence (first, second third etc …) you were born and being a Maverick. I cannot find any definitive research on it.

However there does seem to be an “environmental” influence that creates more mavericks than any other. I recognised this influence over the years that I managed, lead and followed Mavericks in my career in large global technology companies. In my world Mavericks seemed to be closely aligned with innovation – either process, technology or implementation.

Innovation is a powerful driver for mavericks. It powers the Maverick Factory.

What then causes mavericks to develop? Why are large organisations such a big breeding ground for maverick mindsets? Whilst doing research for a white-paper for presentation to the Microsoft global leadership team I offered up a theory that I had been developing on, the process of innovation.

You see, innovation is a major conundrum in large corporations …

The Large Corporation Innovation problem.

Most global companies didn’t start out that way. I can’t think of many organisations that opened their doors on a Monday morning with 60,000 staff ready and waiting to get to it. Well, perhaps the NHS or the armed forces. No, they mostly started small with one powerful idea, and it grew and grew. Even the modern internet conglomerates like Facebook or Google started small but grew quickly.

What created the initial idea is innovation pure and simple. Innovation can be iterative, additive or disruptive but it all stems from the same underlying passion and is lacking in one very important ingredient … Governance.

You see, once a product or service grows to be valuable and gains more and more market traction the anarchy that helped create it suddenly becomes destructive and damaging. Financial rules and stockholder needs overtake the interest and capability of the founders and they have to build a board of directors with the skills to manage and control the growing beast. In the internet age this situation doesn’t take too long from the initial burst of growth.

The new management regime needs to calm the innovative fervour in the founders and initiators. So they quickly spawn rules and boundaries to keep their brilliance focused.
This is Governance and it affects innovation.

Farmer’s Law

My research into this phenomenon needed to be presented in a succinct way and so “Farmer’s Law” was created.

G x I=1.

G governance, multiplied by I innovation, equals 1, a constant.

In other words, there is inverse proportionality between Governance and Innovation. The more you govern the less you innovate. This explains some of the wilful chaos found in start-ups and innovators. This also explains why large corporates have their R&D departments, why they partner with universities and why they end up just buying the innovations in.

This is the core of the dilemma and also the factory for mavericks.

Innovators hate governance but can’t grow financially or organisationally without it.
Governors struggle with innovation but wouldn’t exist without it.

G x I=1.

Mavericks find a way.

Mavericks within large corporations have found a way to sail as close to the governance wind as possible while innovating, they bend and stretch the rules and force governors to bend and accommodate their needs because of the results they achieve. Mavericks who can’t learn to accommodate the governors tend to move on or are moved on.

The Maverick Factory … Mavericks are also very good at identifying Maverick Leaders and often get to work for them. This can be a golden period. Mavericks can also identify lax governance which gives them more scope and time to achieve their great results – this last scenario can be another golden period or an unmitigated disaster when exploited by the less scrupulous (recent situations in the Banking world are proof).

Don’t get me wrong, mavericks aren’t outlaws, they only push the rule – the envelope – far enough to allow them the scope to deliver on their dream. They recognise that governance is essential, a bit of resistance and critical to their repeated success.

But, middle children as a source for mavericks? Now that’s another story …

Robin Farmer
From Draughtsman in ship building to Engineer in process control to Sales and then people leadership Robin has had a varied and successful career. Focussed on high technology, in large and small organisations, Robin has worked for HP for 12 years, run start-ups and then with Microsoft UK for almost 20 years. This long career coupled to his engineer’s mind has given Robin remarkable insight into the culture and operation of Global Corporations.

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