Celebrate the mavericks


  • Someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action.
  • A rebel, recusant, nonconformist – someone who refuses to conform to established standards of conduct
  • Independent in behavior or thought; “she led a somewhat irregular private life”; “maverick politicians”
  • unorthodox, irregular
    unconventional – not conforming to accepted rules or standards; “her unconventional dress and hair style”

People labeled maverick are people who dare to say ‘no‘ not people who tow the line and say ‘yes‘.

Design is the belief in the ignorance of experts

You can’t squeeze innovation out of a sausage factory controlled by people who believe in ‘doing things properly‘, that’s just not how it works. The truth is very different and by accepting the truth you can go and change the status quo.

I’ve always compared good design to charging headfirst into the unknown – the shock of becoming a parent for the very first time or riding a knuckle-biting rollercoaster without being strapped in. It’s about enjoying the ongoing struggles, the risks and challenges and the ‘what the f*** am I doing?’ moments rather than fearing them.

You’ll find most maverick people love to buck a trend, so maybe it really is time to celebrate the mavericks and back the risk takers rather than try to confine them, in order for businesses to successfully move forward.

The large agencies and companies that have a very rigid definition of the route to success are in big big trouble. That approach tends to emulate the way we’re brought up;

  • When we first enter into education at the age of five, we’re taught to obey the rules and fit into a system.
  • We’re forced to specialise early in our schooling (who knows what on earth they want to do at the age of 14?) and learn how to succeed in every exam by following a precise and prescriptive formula.
  • We’re deemed successful if we achieve good GCSEs, A-Levels and degrees. Then hip hip hooray, chin chin, three cheers all around if we’re chosen for a graduate scheme with a reputable and established company.
  • At home, we’re brought up to believe security and stability are the keys to success. Do what others do, fit into the mould and for God’s sake don’t rock the boat

But these norms are diametrically opposed to what makes change and innovation happen. The big companies despise rule breakers because they often fail more often. In these companies failure seems to be something to be ashamed of, hidden or forgotten and the stigma and embarrassment can often force you out of the door.

Sure, work needs to be won and delivered to high standard – first and foremost we’re a service industry. But there can be different ways of thinking that can produce results quicker, change perspective, get to market more efficiently and break the norms. Ironically clients seem to prefer working with the mavericks. It’s the odd few who get called upon the most. That should tell you something.

Designers have to be willing to take risks and embrace the unknown. They need to get things done without any structure and thrive in an environment where there are no rules. They need courage to innovate and the nerve to forge their own path – and agencies need to support that spirit even armed with the knowledge that occasionally there’s a chance they might be pouring their own and sometimes clients money down a plughole.

Across the sea

In developing countries, leaps forward are extremely high because risk taking and high levels of innovation are greatly encouraged and not frowned upon.

In these countries failure is often worn as a badge of honour and seen almost as a form of success. I would consider failing an experience, rather than a shameful indicator of incompetence.

Alternative thinking should be valued, a self-starting attitude encouraged and where the ethos that hard work pays off no matter where you’re from and what you do is ingrained in the mindset of every person in an organisation.

It’s incredibly important in modern businesses to try and minimise barriers to multi-disciplinary working and to provide a creative and innovative learning process. Encourage staff to take courses outside of their domain and engage in projects with those from other disciplines so they can draw upon expertise from across disciplines.

Throw out the rule book

So how do big companies get their acts together for the greater good of the staff, the clients and the end customers?

Firstly, get rid of this preconception of how we should behave; this notion of sticking to the rules, specialising and one size fits all is inherently bad for business.

Companies need to emphasise the importance of critical thinking, problem solving and ingenuity. Give designers the freedom and flexibility to treat each other as individuals and do what they think is right and not what they think is expected. We should encourage talent to be resourceful and creative and give them the courage to throw off the herd mentality. We have to foster an attitude that anything is possible and that failure and screw ups are all part of a learning curve. If we get this right at the core of a business (the management) – it’ll carry through into the culture of a company and furthermore into the work. Tricky decisions need to be made about those members of management who criticise people for not conforming and being maverick. What they showing is a fear of change.

Empower staff to make decisions, champion ideas and create a culture of questioning the norm. It’s not just about listening to them either. It’s also about letting them do it.

We need to inspire others to get on that terrifying, exhilarating rollercoaster ride. The design world needs people willing to take risks and face their fears.

To the naysayers who force us mavericks out of the door: stuff your rules and rigidity and let the mavericks do their bit for the world. You’re holding the company back and limiting innovation. To label someone maverick and not celebrate that is an act of pure fear. So be careful if you do use that term to describe someone in a negative context, you might just be putting yourself into the 10% that is wrong and out of touch.

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