Mavericks at Work by Polly LaBarre, William Taylor
Mavericks at Work by Polly LaBarre, William Taylor

Mavericks at Work

Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win

by Polly LaBarre, William Taylor




In Mavericks at Work, Fast Company cofounder William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, a longtime editor at the magazine, give you an inside look at the "most original minds in business" wherever they find them: from Procter & Gamble to Pixar, from gold mines to funky sandwich shops. Want to stop doing business as usual? Then take some lessons from the 32 maverick companies Taylor and LaBarre profile.

Questions for William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre Whom do you think this book will appeal to?

Taylor and LaBarre: This book should appeal to a wide "coalition" of business leaders and innovators--impatient, change-minded executives in big companies, senior leaders in smaller, entrepreneurial companies, young people with big dreams about their future and their careers. This book should inform and energize anyone and everyone who wants to do big things in business by shaking up the status quo and challenging the powers-that-be. One important point: We strongly believe that this book should appeal to women as well as men. It is not meant to be an uptight, starched-shirt type read--your typical all-male business book. The book doesn't target women executives per se, but we believe it will appeal to men and women alike. What's the story behind the book?

Taylor and LaBarre: In one sense, Mavericks at Work has been 18 months in the making. That's the amount of time that the two of us spent totally focused on the travel, research, interviewing, and writing to create Mavericks at Work. In another sense, this book reflects more than a decade's worth of learning, thinking, and writing about the best way to do business and the new cast of companies and individual leaders that represent the face of business at its best. First at that classic voice of the business establishment, Harvard Business Review, and then at the new-generation magazine that he cofounded, Fast Company, Bill Taylor has been traveling the world, visiting companies, and interviewing great business leaders. Much the same goes for Polly LaBarre--first at the venerable IndustryWeek magazine, and then as one of the original members of the Fast Company team, Polly has made it her speciality to discover, understand, and chronicle the most exciting and innovative leaders in business.

With respect to Mavericks, the book reflects our in-depth access to the 32 companies featured in the book. This is anything but an "armchair" business book. We logged tens of thousands of miles and spent countless hours visiting, conducting interviews at, and participating in meetings, training sessions, and events inside a wide variety organizations. We went deep inside these organizations, looking to understand the ideas they stand for and the ways they work. We participated in a filmmaking class at one of the world's most successful movie studios. We attended a closed-to-the-public awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall, where employees of what has to be the world's most entertaining bank sang, danced, and strutted their stuff. We sat in on a crucial monthly meeting (the 384th such consecutive meeting over the last 32 years) in which top executives and front-line managers of a $600-million employee-owned company share their most sensitive financial information and most valuable market secrets. We walked the corridors of a 120-year-old research facility where a team of change-minded R&D executives is transforming how one of the world's biggest companies develops new ideas for consumer products. We walked the streets of Manhattan with teams of employees from a hard-charging hedge fund, who were sizing up ideas about stock-market picks. What makes this book relevant today?

Taylor and LaBarre: We believe that this is the right book at the right time, with a set of messages and a collection of practices that will inspire business executives and entrepreneurs to bring out the best in their companies, their colleagues, and themselves. Why this book now? Because business needs a breath of fresh air. We are, after five long years, coming out of a dark and trying period in our economy and society--an era of slow growth and dashed expectations, of criminal wrongdoing and ethical misconduct at some of the world's best-known companies. But NASDAQ nuttiness already feels like time-capsule fodder, the white-collar perp walk has become as routine as an annual meeting, and the triumphant return of me-first moguls like Donald Trump feels like a bad nostalgia trip, the corporate equivalent of a hair-band reunion. We've seen the face of business at its worst, and it hasn't been a pretty sight. This book is intended to persuade readers of the power of business at its best.

Which speaks to one of our major goals for Mavericks at Work--to restore the promise of business as a force for innovation, satisfaction, and progress, rather than as a source of revulsion, remorse, and recrimination. Indeed, despite all the bleak headlines and blood-boiling scandals over the last five years, the economy has experienced a period of transformation and realignment, a power shift so profound that we're just beginning to appreciate what it means for the future of business—and for how all of us go about the business of building companies that work and doing work that matters.

In industry after industry, organizations and executives that were once dismissed as upstarts, as outliers, as wildcards, have achieved positions of financial prosperity and market leadership. There's a reason the young billionaires behind the most celebrated entrepreneurial success in recent memory began their initial public offering (IPO) of shares with a declaration of independence from business as usual. "Google is not a conventional company," read their Letter from the Founders. "We do not intend to become one."

Nor does the unconventional cast of characters readers will encounter in this book. From a culture-shaping television network with offices in sun-splashed Santa Monica, California, to a little-known office-furniture manufacturer rooted in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin, from glamorous fields such as advertising, fashion, and the Internet, to old-line industries such as construction, mining, and household products, they are winning big at business--attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs, generating tens of billions of dollars of wealth--by rethinking the logic of how business gets done.

Alan Kay, the celebrated computer scientist, put it memorably some 35 years ago: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." We believe the companies, executives, and entrepreneurs you'll meet in the pages that follow are inventing a more exciting, more compelling, more rewarding future for business. They have devised provocative and instructive answers to four of the timeless challenges that face organizations of every size and leaders in every field: how you make strategy, how you unleash new ideas, how you connect with customers, how your best people achieve great results. Can you give us a brief summary of your book--in 250 words or less?

Taylor and LaBarre: This book is a report from the front lines of the future of business. It is not a book of best practices. It is a book of next practices--a set of insights and a collection of case studies that amount to a business plan for the 21st century, a new way to lead, compete, and succeed.

Our basic argument is as straightforward to explain as it is urgent to apply: When it comes to thriving in a hyper-competitive marketplace, "playing it safe" is no longer playing it smart. In an economy defined by overcapacity, oversupply, and utter sensory overload--an economy in which everyone already has more than enough of whatever it is you're selling--the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for a truly distinctive set of ideas about where your company and industry can and should be going. You can't do big things as a competitor if you're content with doing things a little better than the competition.

This book is devoted to the proposition that the best way to out-perform the competition is to out-think the competition. Maverick companies aren't always the largest in their field; maverick entrepreneurs don't always make the cover of the business magazines. But mavericks do the work that matters most--the work of originality, creativity, and experimentation. They demonstrate that you can build companies around high ideals and fierce competitive ambitions, that the most powerful way to create economic value is to embrace a set of values that go beyond just amassing power, and that business, at its best, is too exciting, too important, and too much fun to be left to the dead hand of business as usual.

Who are these mavericks? The core ideas in this book are rooted in the strategies, practices, and leadership styles of 32 organizations with vastly different histories, cultures, and business models. But all of them are business originals, based on the distinctiveness of their ideas and the power of their practices. They are rethinking competition, reinventing innovation, reconnecting with customers, and redesigning work. Together, they are creating a maverick agenda for business--an agenda from which every business can learn.