Everything you know about business is wrong: Mavericks always make it

Fortune, we are often told, favours the bold - but is this true?

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 26 Feb 2014

Fortune, we are often told, favours the bold - those brave souls who care nothing of what others think, who take extreme risks and succeed against the odds. Faint heart never won fat client, in other words. But is being a maverick really such an intelligent strategy for success? No, and here's why not.

Firstly, if being a maverick is such a dead cert, why aren't there more of them? Proponents would argue that it's because most of us lack the requisite courage. The real reason, though, is more subtle. Social scientists call it 'survivor bias'.

The best way of illustrating this is with the story of the 100 idiots. One day, 100 idiots decided they wanted to become rich, and each set about it in his own equally idiotic way. Of them, 99 soon failed - for the obvious reasons - and were never heard of again.

But the 100th one, although no less idiotic than the others, by sheer fluke, did become rich. He then started a lucrative second career as a motivational speaker, teaching people how to become rich. We see the one who succeeded, and miss the many who did not.

Secondly, for all their apparent unorthodoxy, the reality is that the maverick is just as trapped as the most dogged conformist. Both are in the grip of rules - either 'do what everyone else is doing' or 'do the opposite of what everyone else is doing', rather than a principle, 'do what seems most likely to work'.

The conformist overestimates the risks involved in trying something new or different, while the maverick underestimates them, or makes it a badge of honour not to care. Neither of them is at all discriminating, which means they are equally unable to assess risks accurately and choose between the attractive ones - the bets worth taking, where the odds are in your favour - and the ones to avoid.

Alastair Dryburgh is chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter at www.akenhurst.com by the end of the month and he'll tell you the way to decide when you should break with the status quo and when you shouldn't.

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