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Workplace mavericks: The key to business success?

Small businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on quick-thinking ‘maverick’ staff members, and a new study has identified how employers can channel the talents of these independent thinkers.

Maverick employees have been described as independent, creative and goal-oriented individuals. In the competitive global market-place, well known ‘mavericks’ such as Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson have demonstrated the phenomenal benefits that can come from risk-taking and quick-thinking.

In the first research of its kind, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has attempted to explain and evaluate the behaviour of such individuals in the workplace. The cutting-edge research, based on an analysis of 458 employees, revealed a number of personality traits and biological factors which are indicative of ‘maverickism’.

According to the analysis, people with a preference for using their left ear, instead of their right, are more likely to be mavericks. This is because it denotes a preference for using the right hemisphere of the brain- that is, the side associated with creative, problem solving activities. Lateral preference can be determined by which ear a person would put to a closed door to try to listen to a conversation, or to someone’s chest to hear a heartbeat.

Another positive trait amongst mavericks is ‘openness to experience’, which can be advantageous in the workplace as it encourages others to embrace new and unconventional ideas. However, this is balanced out by the fact that maverick individuals tend to be poor team players and can be less agreeable with others.

The research also added that mavericks are likely to take more risks and to persevere with risk-taking despite receiving negative feedback.

“Individuals high in maverickism are not cautious, safe or conservative; they are prepared to break rules to achieve results,” LSE’s Dr Elliroma Gardiner and UNSW’s Professor Chris Jackson said.

“It is about taking real risks and achieving in a way that is unique and unexpected,” the pair added.

In exploring the multi-faceted nature of maverickism, the research has provided employers with a practical model of how personality variables can suggest maverickism.

“It challenges our preconceptions of certain characteristics and provides evidence that dysfunctional behaviour, like risk-taking, can actually be adaptive,” Gardiner and Jackson said.

While they do not suggest employing a business full of mavericks, they do point out the potential benefits of allowing employees to take measured risks.

“Some aspects of the maverick personality profile, such as risk-taking and low agreeableness, might make some hiring managers quite nervous. However, our research suggests that when combined with other traits, such as extroversion, creativity and openness, the results can be quite positive.”