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Originally published on Monday, October 23, 2006 in The Miami Herald

Mavericks at Work
Now more than ever, being remarkable is an important prerequisite for success in business.

Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win. William C. Taylor, Polly G. LaBarre. HarperCollins. 336 pages.

It's a nice change of pace to read a business book that's exceptionally well written Many of the best ones may be stimulating or provocative but inelegantly crafted or presented in unintentionally challenging ways. This one, while posing no major threat to the classics, is nicely constructed and a welcome relief to anyone who regularly slogs through the underbrush of financial or marketing tomes or too-cute parables.

That said, if you are even a casual reader of the field's current literature, there are few genuinely new ideas here. The notion that commercial entities must establish powerful emotion connections with their customers, that disruptive products, services and business models can be quite powerful, and that open source collaboration is a revolutionary means of developing products is pretty much taken for granted these days by thoughtful leaders, if not the majority of business people.

Yet William Taylor's and Polly LaBarre's palpable enthusiasm for these things and the selection of companies and people they examine in their book make the whole add up to much more than the sum of its parts.

A Canadian mining company that employs ''open source'' collaboration to determine where to dig for gold is pretty revolutionary. That they've become one of the most successful and efficient operations in the world, largely by implementing the seemingly counterintuitive methods described by the authors, is well worth studying.

Netflix, the mail order DVD rental service, has become so successful that it managed to thwart predatory retail monster Wal-Mart in its quest to replicate Netflix's success. Taylor and LaBarre point out that most observers focus on its distribution, but the success of Netflix is largely predicated on its ability to leverage the collective intelligence of its customers and their shared affinities.

Other well-known companies such as Southwest Airlines, Pixar, IBM, Cirque du Soleil, HBO, craigslist and Procter & Gamble are examined, along with somewhat lower profile entities such as Cranium, Commerce Bank, ING Direct, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Vermont Teddy Bears, Anthropologie, Jones Soda and others.

There are similarities and differences between and among these organizations, so Taylor and LaBarre point out some of the ways each company's leaders, values, business needs and other factors determine their actions and make them ''mavericks.'' In addition to their unconventional approach to business, there are several qualities that all of them seem to have in common, according to the authors. Foremost is their approach to human resource issues, from recruiting to job titles, with most of the case studies supporting the notion that internal people issues are most critical to their success. Another is that every interaction with customers must be positive and, whenever possible, memorable.

Though not everything Taylor and LaBarre highlight is transportable to every imaginable business, their book's value is in stimulating thinking to help all employees -- not just owners and managers -- transcend constraints to make their organizations successful and meaningful. Clearly, not every firm can do all of these things. And that's the other commonality: that each company stays true to itself. The authors further illuminate their ideas with an excellent bibliography and smart notes, too.

Good book!

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