Brains trust: Mavericks are tricky, but valuable

Do you have an employee who’s a disagreeable, extroverted risk-taker?

Don’t go assuming they’re a liability. According to new research, they could be a maverick who’s going to improve the way your business functions.

Elliroma Gardiner of the London School of Economics and Chris Jackson of the University of New South Wales are the authors of a paper to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology.

The authors wanted to look at mavericks because “recent economic events have seen businesses increasingly more reliant on the skills of internal ‘mavericks’ to keep firms aggressive and competitive in the global market place,” the paper says.

The researchers took 205 male and 252 female workers based in Sydney, from a range of industries. The researchers then measured “maverickism” by getting their sample workers to complete an online questionnaire, quizzing them on whether they displayed the traits normally associated with maverickism in the workplace. For example, ‘I have a way of solving problems that is different from other people’ or ‘I have a knack for getting things right’. The researchers then made their subjects sit through a number of other behavioural surveys, and compared these with the original data-set for any correlations.

They found mavericks tended to be extroverts, to be open to new experiences, and to be right-ear dominant – meaning that they tend to listen to soft sounds with their right ear, a trait supposed to link to use of the left brain.

Mavericks were found to be low in “agreeableness”. The authors argued that “for an individual to engage in disruptive and non-conformist behaviour, they would need to be antagonistic, egocentric, and sceptical of others’ intentions rather than cooperative.”

Mavericks were also found to take more risks, and likely to continue with risk-taking behaviour even if a manager tried to reign them in.

The researchers admit that some aspects of the ‘maverick’ personality profile might make hiring managers nervous. “However, our research suggests that when combined with other traits, such as extroversion, creativity and openness, the results can be quite positive.”

“Although we are not suggesting that businesses rush to fill their organisations with ‘mavericks’, what we are suggesting is that in the current climate, where many businesses are asking their workers to do more with less, encouraging workers to be creative and giving them some leeway to take measured risks may have some potential benefits.”

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