Wednesday, 23 May 2012

What makes a maverick?

Who are the mavericks who take the path less travelled and bring organisations along in their wake?  We can point to individuals, such as the British entrepreneur Richard Branson, but there has been little empirical work to establish the personal profile that predicts maverickism.

Enter Elliroma Gardiner and Chris J. Jackson, who gathered data online from 458 full-time workers within a range of sectors, seeking to map a range of personal variables onto their measure of maverickism. This measure captured the tendency to behave in disruptive, bold, risk-taking ways to achieve goals. It was also constructed to capture only functional maverickism, on the basis that when these behaviours lead to failures rather than successes the instigator is labelled a misfit or deviant, not a maverick; a typical item was "I have a knack for getting things right when least expected."

What predicted maverickism? After accounting for the predictive power of maleness - associated with maverickism - the  regression analysis revealed what was contributed by personality. More extraverted participants tended to be mavericks, reflecting the energetic, sociable side needed to push new ideas. Mavericks were also open to experience, the personality trait that reflects willingness to try new things and act against the status quo. Those with high maverickism tended to be lower in agreeableness, which the investigators had predicted: you may need some social skills to be a maverick, but you also need to be comfortable with people resenting your approach and with upsetting people.

Gardiner and Jackson found two other measures mattered after personality was taken into account. One came from a computer task of risky behaviour, where participants gained in-game money by inflating balloons bigger - but lost cash when they burst. In a condition where balloons became very sensitive in a second stage, raising the risks markedly, those who finished with more ruptured rubber had higher maverickism scores. The final measure was of laterality: the degree to which we rely on one side of our body over another. Participants with a stronger left-ear preference were more likely to report maverick behaviour... if they also scored low in the personality variable of neuroticism. Why? Left body laterality implies right brain laterality, and some lines of evidence suggest this is associated with creativity. Creative ideas can make a good maverick - but not if we're too anxious to act on them, as high neuroticism would imply.

The research suggests that maverick behaviour originates from individuals who are extraverted, curious, tough toward others, and fairly inured to punishing risk. The data also suggests that a combo of an emotionally stable personality with a creative capacity facilitates maverickism, although we might want to see this measured directly using measures of creativity.  I'm left fascinated by what differentiates the maverick from the workplace deviant. It could be about picking the right risks, but note that our functional mavericks stuck to their bold (but non-optimal) balloon strategy even in the face of feedback (bursts) that led others to cool off.   Are the mavericks just the lucky ones?

ResearchBlogging.orgGardiner, E., & Jackson, C. (2011). Workplace mavericks: How personality and risk-taking propensity predicts maverickism British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02090.x


  1. Ahh what a brilliant post, it's interesting you see people labelled as mavericks or deviants!

  2. Great article, I need one of those hats!

  3. Good read, thanks for making this more clear and I'm pretty sure I know a few mavericks!

  4. Haha interesting post, will see who's a maverick in no time!