Entrepreneur-ism 6: The Maverick and his Need for Excitement
Continuing the discussion on the key entrepreneurial archetypes… Mavericks are perpetually in search of excitement; achievement for them is a constant state of a high gotten from incessantly pushing themselves and those around them. Neither is success nor failure as important to them, as to do satisfy their hunger of doing what they find exciting. The maverick cannot help but gamble because that’s what helps him feel alive.
And so what helps them live is to aim for that impossible task which typically no one else has managed. Once the task becomes possible they lose interest and hand it over to someone else or exit from it. Examples of such gamblers would range from Steve Jobs to Richard Branson. I also suspect that Subrata Sahara Roy has strong gambler traits as did Harshad Mehta. I suspect the maverick played a strong role in Dhirubhai Ambani’s career as well.
In mythology, Mahabharata’s Yudhishthir was definitely the supreme maverick, a gambler who surpassed all, who did everything thing as if he had no control over himself. The gambling away of a fortune and not to mention the wife, the making of the unsurpassed palace the first chance he got, or the putting together of a massive army with nothing but a few ill-clad brothers in tow and calling of many favours, and when he won it all, he was still not an elated man! Then he got to reach heaven but did not enter, did not mind entry into hell, also refused a ride to heaven for the sake of a dog. Study Yudhishthir from my lens and what we have is a maverick whose primary motive was a constant need for excitement, packaged in a frayed fabric of dharma. His need for excitement, I suspect is fed by his need to feel alive, as if he was undoing the curse of his birth, for he was the son of death (Yama) itself! His enemy Duryodhana was right in not accepting Yudhishthir’s offer of peace for 5 villages; I suspect even 50,000 villages would not have kept the gambler’s instincts reigned. But well that is old story.
But of course that does not mean the organizations they create can’t be successful. Take Steve Jobs for instance, there have been amazing products built out of thoughts that would be way out of the box for most people. But the key was the mind-factory that was generating all of this would just not stop, because it could just not stop. Massive successes and failures are intimately connected with this almost mythical entrepreneur. But no failure could have stopped him – because arguably he was not driven by success – but the high that comes out of doing the impossible.
Many people are driven by excitement, and the search for excitement can undoubtedly be a very powerful force. But satiating the need for excitement makes it very difficult to create processes. And if processes cant be created, organizations are difficult to create as well. Most importantly, a maverick can be great fun to be around. The energy is infectious, and that energy and the innovation it creates also deadens the rational element. This is the maverick entrepreneur’s biggest challenge. If a Sentinel watchdog does not exist within the team, at least the Hero and his focus towards success can discipline matters. But if either do not exist, then the Maverick would do well to develop those same instincts within himself or listen to advisors who bring in the same element.
The success of Apple would be difficult to achieve without the Sentinel’s role being played by team members (Cook?), not to mention the more disciplined Steve Jobs in his second innings leading Apple. I also admire Richard Branson for that reason as well, this person is clearly a maverick. But he has the ability to set up a new line of business and hand it over to a team that would clearly be a disciplined entity. And he does it in completely different domains every few years.
I asked my son, which of these archetypes he would identify me with. It took about a half a second, and I got the bored look that adolescent children love to give their parents, ‘the need for excitement’ he said! That’s what I was looking for – excitement! And that’s what I got in many different ways, many not so pleasureable!
But start-ups don’t work only on excitement. I realized this problem of the lack of a strong counterpoint and tried many ways of correcting it. I first set up a directors board of trusted people. It did not work very well, because though well meaning, they were not invested in it in the same way I was. Moreover domain knowledge for a niche area that my business was in, was also very difficult for them comprehend. Then I got outside consultants to help out and interact with, but that did not work either. Again, the problem was not them? “I need you to bring the right instinct into my start up”?! Difficult mission statement that!
Finally I tried to get people from within to play a stronger role, and that did work to some extent. And so that problem was circumvented by every task/product manager being effectively assigned the Sentinel’s role to make sure their domain does not falter. The model allowed us some flexibility, with experimentation and innovation reporting directly to me, and all others reporting directly to others who were monitored by me on whether they were performing well enough their Sentinel-watchdog role. But it took some time to figure this out and much of that was learning by doing. For instance there was also a time when the innovation was deliberately put under someone else. That worked for a while, but staff turnover went up, and could not be sustained, because the team was not used to a very different style. There was another time, when we totally stopped all innovation, and I handed over charge to someone else, but that got me into serious trouble with some clients. Finally, it came down to very individual level traits, some managers were very good sentinels, some not as much. And some were better implementers than others.
In other words, we can harp about the right set of instincts and motivations as much as we want, and they are no doubt very important. But nothing beats good implementation. If you don’t have that everything else is zero.