Think Like a Maverick

Creative thinkers—people who think differently—are often branded as mavericks or oddballs. Being an oddball isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mavericks who strike out on a different path—like Gandhi—who are record-breaking athletes—like Jesse Owens, Pelé, or Michael Jordan—and who are innovators—like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Richard Branson—have truly achieved great things.

As we’ve seen in the individuals mentioned above, maverick characteristics include being pioneering, ambitious, entrepreneurial, and—it’s true—irreverent. They’re adventurous and like to experiment. Their enthusiasm is infectious. It’s these traits that contribute to their brand of peak performance and to their ability to win in difficult situations.

The trouble is—myself included—creative thinkers are often considered misfits in business and are often sidelined in the workplace. This just doesn’t make sense.

Creative people are driven to improve things—their product or service, their living circumstances, the world they inhabit—not to seek approval from others.

Businesses benefit from being open to diverse mindsets and from striving to learn from creative thought processes. It’s not just businesses that benefit. The world needs us to be at the top of our game. Whether by providing goods and services that contribute to a strong economy, finding small ways to make a bigger difference in the world and the environment, or by being the best parent or person we can be, I believe we have a duty to take on a winner’s mindset and strive for peak performance as we positively affect the world around us.

It’s the perfect time, here in the Innovation Age, to take on this challenge. New opportunities—including in the form of crises—are coming our way faster and more frequently than ever. To adequately respond, we need to intentionally think outside the box—through creative problem-solving—or build a new box—through innovation. The companies that embrace this kind of change most quickly are winning the race.

In this chapter, I’ll show you some ways to develop a peak performance business strategy by using a creative thinking approach. If you pay attention, you might just see what it would take to get yourself to maverick level.

Why Change Your Strategy?

To determine if it’s time to try a new approach in your business or organization, review the indicators that could signal the need for a mindset shift:

  • Revenue and return on investment have flat-lined or hit rock bottom.
  • You’re losing staff and institutional knowledge.
  • Staff are not fully engaged, or they resist change.
  • You’re noticing negativity, reduced productivity, and low morale.
  • Team disagreements are surfacing.
  • Leaders are making most of the decisions.
  • There’s a general lack of good ideas.

Why use creative thinking as a strategy for upping your game in business, life, or sports? Quite simply, when you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got. New situations and problems require new solutions.

The Unexpected Benefits of Creativity

Let’s say you’ve identified some less-than-optimum indicators, but you’re still on the fence. Approaching challenges with creativity may provide surprising outcomes:

  • Challenges generate excitement and can reinvigorate staff.
  • It’s an opportunity to have fun … laughter reduces tension and brings people together.
  • Creativity is likely to generate better solutions to the problems for which you exist to address.

Take a look at the positive outcomes you could experience by designing a culture of peak performance using creativity and innovation strategies:

Fiscal Health

  • Increased profit and return on investment
  • Increased funding or investment

Performance Improvements

  • Stronger, more productive teams
  • Greater individual productivity and confidence
  • A higher level of morale, engagement, and motivation
  • Staff feeling trusted, valued, and part of an equitable culture
  • The breaking down of generational barriers through creative work together
  • More opportunities for informal learning

Operational Robustness

  • Key players staying with the company
  • Greater leveraging of staff talents and institutional knowledge
  • Improved solutions, systems, and processes
  • Ability to pivot rapidly in response to external events
  • A stronger and more defined corporate culture
  • Becoming the competition others want to beat

Leadership Development

  • Leaders feeling more engaged with their team
  • Confidence in the team, leading to more delegation
  • Greater self-confidence as a leader
  • More opportunities for leadership development
  • And let’s not overlook getting credit for the above accomplishments!

Okay, now that you’re convinced, and, seeing this list, you may agree that creative thinking is an obvious strategy for solving problems. Even if you’re enthusiastic about this approach, you may feel nervous about employing it.

If you’re confused about how to go about solving problems creatively and nurturing a culture of innovation, you’re not alone. In an Adobe “State of Create” global benchmark study (2012), 80 percent of people saw unlocking creative potential as being key to economic growth, yet only 25 percent felt they were living up to their own creative potential. I’ll wager that if the same survey were carried out today, those findings would be roughly the same.

By and large, we are not taught creative problem-solving in school. We learn to solve math, science, or logic problems. We learn how to pass tests and get along with others. But, for the most part, we’re not taught how to creatively solve problems, either on our own or collaboratively.

As with any skill, it’s possible to learn creative problem-solving at any age. I’m going to give you some guidance for doing that.

First, let’s look more closely at innovation.

The Role of Innovation

It’s often hard to agree what innovation is.

I like this framing from Winner’s Mindset creator, Erik Seversen: “Innovation is finding ways to reach the target with less effort.”

It pairs well with Deloitte’s definition: “An innovation is a market-differentiating change in a product, service or business model that generates a sustainable competitive advantage.”

Note that “a market-differentiating change” doesn’t specify that the resulting product, service, or business model must be brand-new. In fact, it could be an existing idea uniquely applied; it could be applied in an industry other than for which it was originally designed; or it could be the next iteration of an existing product or service. Take the smartphone—although hailed as a brand-new invention when it launched, it was just three existing technologies—a computer, a phone, and a camera—combined in a new way. Innovation is about breaking rules.

Some might say that innovation is risky. Peter Drucker said, “Of course innovation is risky. All economic activity is, by definition, high-risk. But defending yesterday—that is, not innovating—is far more risky than making tomorrow.” This really puts innovation in perspective and provides a business imperative for pursuing it.

An Accenture Survey on Innovation (2015) takes this imperative even further. Eighty-four percent of leaders said that they were “dependent on innovation for their company’s long-term success.” An IBM survey carried out in 2016 showed that four out of five CEOs rated innovation as a “crucial capability” because of the ability to shift quickly in response to external events.

Now that the arguments for creative problem-solving and innovation have been laid out, are you ready to make a start?

The first step is understanding creative thinking.


Ellia Harris
Ellia Harris
“Helping staff solve problems creatively is the fastest way for new managers to become a more effective leader and build a stronger team.” – Ellia Harris. Ellia Harris is passionate about the role that creativity provides in addressing organizational, societal, and global problems, and in helping people and teams achieve their potential. Through The Potential Center™, Ellia’s mission is to simplify the creative problem-solving and innovation process so managers can feel confident in addressing urgent, pervasive, and expensive problems while building a stronger, happier team. Having been one herself several times over, Ellia prefers to coach and train relatively new managers who may be experiencing staff turnover, low morale, team disagreements, or static revenue. These managers are often in sustainability, social enterprise, and nonprofit organizations – sectors that align with her passions and experience. Ellia’s framework Light Bulb Thinking™ (LBT) is designed to cultivate curiosity, creativity, and critical reasoning skills. And with its strong slant on leadership development, LBT and the audio course Light Bulb Moments™ help clients achieve goals while building a culture of kickass innovation. Learn more about Ellia Harris at The Potential Center.

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  1. Welcome to the group. Judging by the intelligence and creativity of the article I believe that you will find yourself very well and, above all, we will be able to draw a lot of useful knowledge from your ideas and proposals.
    How can we be innovative if we comply with the rules? How can we change without questioning the system? Leaders seem to want innovation and creativity, but are frightened by nonconformist collaborators, seen almost as “pain in the ass”. The situation is paradoxical.
    Many people believe that their employers do not encourage nonconformity, and indeed reward people who abide by the rules. Therefore, they not only believe that the rules are expected to be followed, but also that no one can break them. This pushes them to be more loyal to the dictates than would be necessary, and conformity is so widespread in our culture that it is difficult to overcome it. The fact is that each of us wants to feel accepted, he wants to feel part of a group and have the feeling of being appropriate to the context he belongs to. At the same time, however, we need rebels, people who openly express their opinions, even when they disagree, who are good at neutralizing the dynamics of single thinking. Challenging common thinking can provoke discussions that bring greater clarity and that stimulate all those involved to think more broadly and openly.
    The rebels are agents of change! Rebellions are often underestimated, seen as an act to weaken or subvert the existing structure. The rebels, however, do not become one without a reason, they see flaws in the existing system and want to improve it. Being a rebel in a society that does not rebel is exhausting, and since their vitality is important for companies, we need to support their spirit and energy, we need to support them by increasing the number of rebels rather than silencing them.

    • Aldo, your questions and comments are very timely! The world does need (positive) rebels right now! In the words of the civil rights icon US Senator John Lewis, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in GOOD TROUBLE, necessary trouble.”

      The fact is that it takes courage to be a rebel, and to listen to a rebel without judgment. Sadly, whatever courage we are born with and further develop into early adulthood is often, as you point out, replaced by conformity.

      Since leaders set the cultural tone, it’s leaders that need to lead their team and organization into creativity by example. This is hard when so many leaders don’t know how to do that. And when the pull to belong is – understandably – so strong. I’m dedicated to this work because I want to help leaders feel more comfortable with, and see the imperative for, encouraging diversity in thinking. The future of their organization, of our world!, may depend on it.