Why the world needs more Mavericks

Essay by Ian Burbidge: “As we turn our minds to the work that will be needed following the global pandemic of Covid-19, the challenges that confront society remain significant: from preventing the climate crisis to tackling racial justice, improving mental health to ending poverty. We need new ways of thinking and acting in the world. 

For those of us of a certain age ’Maverick’ will evoke images of an uber-confident fighter pilot buzzing control towers and generally flouting the rules of the navy in the 1980s Top Gun movie. A common feature of those at the top of their game, who are seemingly untouchable in their work, or who simply see things differently, is that the unusual perspective and skillset from which they operate enables them to push the boundaries of what’s common or acceptable practice.

Without someone stretching the realms of what’s possible in the first place there isn’t room for the rest of us to experiment or play with the new possibilities that open up as a result.

Sometimes this can stretch a limiting mindset, just as the 4 minute mile was once thought to be beyond the possibility of the human body. Sometimes it simply breaks new ground, as Kevin Peterson’s switch hit in cricket did. Sometimes it confounds social expectations, as Emilia Earhart being the first woman to make a solo non-stop transatlantic flight. Some are well known, others less so. Wynne Fletcher, my Nan, trained during the second world war as a wireless mechanic yet on arrival at a Lincolnshire airbase was sent to the typing pool. She soon found a way to overcome the assumptions of the base commander and do the job she was really there for, ensuring the equipment on board the aircraft was operating effectively, on occasion accompanying the crew on bombing sorties.

Conformists don’t tend to push boundaries or challenge convention because the very act of operating within the rules suggests a mindset or approach that is not going to be comfortable outside of them.

Of course, we need people like this; they provide the stable foundation that creates the order without which everything falls apart. Dynamic change happens from a place of stability. But it can’t happen without those who catalyse such change. To do that, they have to see and do things differently, and that’s a core characteristic of those we call mavericks.

Samuel Maverick was a Texas lawyer, politician and land baron who refused to brand his calves. His logic was if all the other cattle owners branded theirs then any unbranded animals would be recognised as his. This created a new kind of unbranded brand, and inadvertently increased his stock as a result. Samuel went against the grain. It’s from him that we draw the Oxford English dictionary definition of a maverick as someone who “thinks and acts in an independent way, often behaving differently from the expected or usual way”.

Understanding the value that such people bring to the world is therefore an important contribution to our account of what it takes to create change and bring value to the world, especially if we care about pushing humanity forward….(More)”.