By Matt Cardwell
My mother always said that if she got one really great recipe from a cookbook it was worth the price, even if the other 300 recipes were unfit to serve. I kind of feel the same way about business and marketing books: If I can get one really good idea from a business strategy book, than I consider it a win. Problem is, you have to wade through dozens of mediocre books to find that one recipe or great idea.
So imagine my surprise when I picked up “Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win” by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre and found myself not only reading three-quarters of the book in one sitting (on a very cramped airplane ride between Detroit and Boston, mind you), but also feverishly scribbling notes and ideas in the margins clear from the Motor City to Bean Town.
Taylor and LaBarre are former Fast Company alums (Taylor co-founded the magazine and LaBarre spent eight years there as a senior editor), so they have plenty of experience ferreting out up-and-coming “new economy” companies. But this book is not just about the up-and-comers – it also examines some fairly established brands that are blazing trails (profitably, I should add) within their industries by cultivating originality, relentlessly focusing on their clients and customers needs and building a sense of greater purpose within their organizations. Some of the companies profiled are household names like HBO and Southwest Airlines; others are less mainstream, but no less interesting.
Take the fascinating story of Goldcorp, Inc., whose former CEO, Rob McEwen – inspired by the open-source software movement – released all of its highly-proprietary mineral and geological data on the Internet and invited scientists and engineers from anywhere in the world to download the info, analyze it and submit drilling plans to company. The top 25 semifinalists and 3 finalists got to split a $500,000 cash reward. When the “Goldcorp Challenge” was over, than half of the identified targets were places Goldcorp had never thought of drilling at. The strategy worked and by the end of 2004, Goldcorp was holding more gold bullion than the central banks of 45 of the world’s countries (including Canada and Mexico.)
This reminded me of Clayton’s post about dangerous ideas. McEwan’s own people thought he was crazy to release so much proprietary information to the world – and Goldcorp’s competitors. In the end, he was crazy alright, crazy like a fox.
While McEwen’s strategy struck some of his colleagues as borderline insanity, it really wasn’t. Think about it—he did what anyone faced with a tough decision might do: he asked for advice. In this case, he asked the advice of the entire planet (well, okay, not exactly the entire planet—mostly just people who had some kind of knowledge useful to gold prospecting, but you get the point.)
I think Taylor and LaBarre hit it on the head when they ask in Mavericks At Work: “Why settle for being the smartest guy in the room, when it’s so clear, in so many different settings, that nobody is as smart as everybody?”
Good question. I think Rob McEwen already has the answer.