Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mavericks at Work

The latest edition of Idealog has hit the streets.
Now that I am not involved in the day to day production I find it fascinating to see what the team have come up with. Like any other contributor I am subject to editing and sub-editing (unlike blogging). In this issue I reviewed Mavericks at Work. Here is the unexpurgated version.


Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win

William C Taylor & Polly Labarre

I read a lot of business books. Three in a good week (or a very, very dull one, depending on your point of view). Every now and then I read one that makes my palms sweat…Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence; Gonzo Marketing by Chris Locke, John Grant’s After Image and New Marketing Manifesto all come easily to mind. I can trace shifts in my thinking to each of those books – and associate them with things I invented after reading.

Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win is very nearly one of those books. Its authors shouldn’t feel too bad about approximating the sweat response though. William C. Taylor and Polly Labarre are journalists, rather than innovators themselves. Both are founding contributors to the Fast Company magazine – which, though not a book, does qualify as a sweaty palm literature moment for me. In the late 90’s I was utterly gobsmacked by it (…had it not been for FC I would not have met the principals of HB Media and there would be no Idealog – read the full story on my Idealog blog).

The central thesis of Mavericks at Work is that safe businesses strategies are the riskiest ones. The book details many cases of unconventional businesses that have disrupted categories; from the often-cited Southwestern Airlines to ING Bank, Sex and the City broadcaster HBO and the manufacturing and marketing behemoth Proctor & Gamble. There’s plenty of variety.

Many of the ideas in the book will have comfortably successful business owners scoffing. Why? Because, having been successful they make the assumption that they will remain successful. To you, and you know who you are, consider the sage wisdom of Dan Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy, the Portland, Oregon advertising agency (satellites in New York, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Shanghai and London). His company produces over a billion (US) dollars in revenues and he personally created one of the most famous, long running and successful ad campaigns of all time Just Do It for Nike. He must know all there is to know, right? Wrong. He touts the philosophy of “Walking in stupid every day” to keep challenging the organization and himself, to seek out unexpected ideas, outside influences and new perspectives on old problems.

I have to confess bias in reviewing this book. It fits my worldview. In the context of a business environment literary merit doesn’t count for much. But the facts are not enough. This is a business book of the best kind. It is utterly readable. It won’t be filed next to Michael …yawn…Porters Competitive Advantage of Nations, impressively gathering dust on your shelf. It is a collection of ripping yarns around a central proposition. Creativity in business kicks arse. It is a page-turner. If you’re a slow reader and read in bed be prepared to give up sex for a week. If you’re a really slow reader, don’t read it in bed.

It took me forever to read. Thank God I live alone. I kept being distracted by having ideas… But, dammit, that’s the measure of a good book! Isn’t it? They’re not supposed to tell you what to think, but to get you thinking.

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