Legend has it that Apple’s Steve Jobs killed projects at the tech giant for one purpose — to birth a new one. Jobs recognized that some level of dissatisfaction exists in every market and capitalizing on that dissatisfaction was the root of his genius. He proved that even the giant must never fear behaving like the new kid on the block.

The heart of a maverick versus that of an established market leader.

Keeping a maverick’s heart is holding on to the essence of what the founders of most companies knew and evangelized. Research shows that regardless of location many companies lose this founder’s mindset or passion as they grow and mature. In essence, they turn away from the maverick’s heart that built their success. Mavericks waged war on their own industry’s inefficiency, arrogance and cost structure — championing the dissatisfied customer’s needs.

Mavericks figure out how to sell a better cup of coffee. They challenge established distribution systems or customer service standards. They dream of a better employee experience. They use technology differently. They fight the status quo — and sometimes, they change the world.

But as they grow, get bigger, expand markets and products, too many times they move away from the passion and perspective that the founder’s unrelenting focus on people, customers and cost brought. They become the status quo. And sure enough, another maverick shows up in an industry waging war against the very company that years before was the maverick. New, smaller, faster, nimbler alternatives show up in an industry and reinvent the value proposition on behalf of dissatisfied customers — and the cycle starts over.

How can leaders maintain a maverick’s heart? How can leaders protect their companies from the new insurgent in an industry?

Four Keys To Keeping A Maverick’s Heart

1. Stay On Fire.

Don’t lose the passion for the one thing that makes or breaks the business — the customer. Focus on the elements of business that attracted the customer base when you entered the market. Hire a customer evangelist. Add them to every internal committee. Let the center of your company’s universe be the customer — current needs and yet-determined future needs. Work to bring people on board your company who will fight for the customer.

2. Fund The Frontline.

Commit resources to those who interact with customers. The face of the business that deals directly with customers matters. You have a choice — commit to making the frontline a priority or risk losing business to the newcomer who has yet to build a wall of systems between the customer and the business. Include frontline employees when approaching strategy decisions — be sure the customer is represented.

3. Put Your Money On The Mission.

Don’t allow costs to creep in that take away from the product or focus of the business. Systems created to help the business function can be the very things that begin to leach a budget away from the central goal. Make decisions with the mindset that each dollar is your own. Take a hard look at the costs in the business and the value you get for those costs. Know that time is money, and slow actions usually are very expensive. For every decision that doesn’t have a bias toward action, you are making a decision to burn money. Don’t be the leader who refuses to take a bet. Don’t spread funding initiatives like peanut butter on toast. Mavericks put their money, focus, time and resources on the best bets.

4. Talent Matters.

Established market leaders deliver system and structure while a maverick delivers value to the customer. As you grow and get bigger, resist the urge to bring in talent from the market leader who has never built anything, just administered it. Find talent with an anti-industry approach. Find and keep the people who think differently and who look at cost and customers differently.

The Challenge:

You’re ready to storm the establishment and grow at the same time. How do you scale a business with a system run by mavericks?

The key is in balance.

  • Scale allows you to raise margins, and through better productivity, make even higher margins. Spend some of that additional gain back on satisfying customer needs.
  • Don’t over process the system or standardize everything — removing flexibility usually has a negative impact on customers.
  • Shake it up and hire people who are disruptors and believe in the company mission. Hire people who aren’t afraid to shake it up to meet the customer needs.
  • If you lose that drive to satisfy customers, you’ve lost part of what made you successful in the first place.
  • The right employees with the right perspective make the maverick heart possible year after year.
  • Create a culture that draws the right kind of employees. Look to businesses like Southwest Airlines, Apple and Zappos. They’ve pushed past the status quo by making a cultural element the linchpin of the business.

Challenge yourself. Be a maverick in your company, and you just might change the world.