We all know the great modern-day entrepreneurial business mavericks such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Fred Smith (FedEx) Richard Branson (Virgin) and Bill Gates (Microsoft), but there are other business mavericks who toil unknown and often unappreciated in companies all across America. These unknown mavericks perform one very important function: They fight the urge of many in business to “stand-pat” with what has already been accomplished.

Despite resistance from those they try to help, these business mavericks are often the difference between success and failure of the company they work for. These are mavericks who, rather than create their own organization, make the organization they work in better because they refuse to be stifled by the organization.

What is amazing is that these business mavericks persist in a culture that values uniformity over uniqueness. Those in the business world who are content with the present see the maverick as a threat and respond by depicting these independent-minded individuals as malcontents. Thus the corporate business maverick is often treated as an outcast, filled with ridicule, rejection, recrimination and aloneness.

Yet, they stubbornly persist. There is something in their DNA that will not allow them to go along to get along. And whether they recognize it or not, the companies these mavericks work for are better because of them.

Sure, the vicissitudes of the corporate maverick can cause them to be an irritant, difficult to control and obstreperous. But instead of scorning them, businesses should encourage and regale the maverick within its ranks, because they drive change and innovation when it is most often needed, but goes unrecognized.

Sadly, change and innovation are often viewed as unwelcome visitors to those set in their ways and comfortable with the status quo. Nevertheless, the maverick plays a vital role in any organization, even if it is only to make others uncomfortable with the way things are.

Maverick Under the Microscope

A willingness to be out front and alone can be fun and even rewarding for the maverick. Certainly more fun than screwing the screw the same way everyone else does. But it does demand a particular psyche and different genetic makeup to be a maverick. Here’s what to look for.

For starters, mavericks have relentless curiosity. Have you noticed that in most corporate cultures, people may ask “how,” but rarely do they ask “why?” The maverick is rarely concerned about how things are done, but always want to know why they are being done. They are not willing to accept what has been for what could be.

The maverick has a compelling drive to look at the world through a kaleidoscope, rather than a microscope. This translates into an openness to try new things and do old things in new ways. Mavericks by nature question and challenge established procedures and mores. They at least want to explore new ideas and test their value.

But even that is not enough for the maverick. They know that thinking about a new idea is just a start; it needs nurturing and support. They understand the true value of an idea resides in its implementation. That is why the maverick is often irritatingly incessant in pushing for the exploration and testing of new ideas. As management expert Peter Drucker wrote, “Ideas are cheap and abundant. What is of value is the effective placement of these ideas into situations that develop into action.” Doing so is a key value of the maverick.

Despite often being ostracized by the keepers of the status quo, the maverick is not always a loner. In fact, by encouraging and exciting others to be more open in their thinking and acting, they can become true leaders. Most mavericks don’t put up with the heat of being different for their own benefit; they want things better for everyone.

Why Not More Mavericks?

If mavericks are so important to progress, why are there not more of them? After all, on the surface, being a maverick doesn’t require any special skills. You don’t have to have an MBA from an Ivy League school (actually that is probably more hindrance than help) or any other specialized training. The answer? We’ve got a defensive mechanism that learns early on to suppress the maverick mentality within us.

This mechanism to accept and conform starts at a young age. Children commonly exhibit the maverick’s inclination to question why things are done the way they are. As soon as children begin to talk they incessantly ask the irritating question, “Why?” And most often parents answer with, “Because that’s the way it is.” Schools only exacerbate the pressure on nascent mavericks. The educational system is based upon the pedagogy of answering questions, not asking them. Students are rewarded for the proper rote playback of answers, not for the ability to question the reasons for the answers or the assumptions behind the questions. The pressure is to “go along to get along.” Not surprisingly, most buckle under the pressure. By the time the student escapes the educational system and enters the business world, any tendency to think or act like a maverick has been exorcised as if it were a troublesome evil spirit.

And the Moral of the Story …

In the business world the connotation of a “maverick” is a negative one. To be a maverick is to be chastised as not being a “team player” and portrayed as a malcontent who is never happy with the way things are. In most corporate cultures the maverick must accept the enmity of the leadership because they are seen more as a threat to the present than a catalyst for the future. What is so sadly ironic in this situation is that the organizations most in need of the value that a maverick can bring are the ones most opposed to accepting a maverick in their presence.

The life of a maverick in the typical business environment is not easy, but it is a lot more fun and exciting than simply going along to get along. What is most rewarding for the maverick is when those who were most opposed to their ideas begin to copy and adopt them as is they were their own.