Dare to Be Different

Jeff Cunningham
5 min readMar 14, 2024


“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”

For Warren Buffett, it started when he fingerprinted a nun. John McCain stumbled across it while being tortured in a North Vietnamese POW camp. Soledad O’Brien, Dr. Reatha Clark King, and Nikki Haley’s parents passed it down. Ulysses S. Grant gave it to David Petraeus. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Michael Milken paid a heavy price for it. Jeff Immelt and Lloyd Blankfein were accused of taking unprecedented risks to find it. Olympic champion Michael Phelps had to be tested to realize he had it. When FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shook hands, it created a bond that brought down apartheid. Businessman-turned-impresario Malcolm Forbes lived for it, and businessman-turned-president Donald Trump exuded it — bigly, as he assured us.

So what is this elusive quality?

The Power of Individuality

Maverick Rising, the story of 13 visionaries who dared to rewrite the rules of the game came about by serendipity — much like their unexpected rise to prominence. In our search for individuals to feature in our YouTube series, “Iconic Voices,” we wanted to find out what propelled the evolution from average to remarkable.

In our quest to uncover the essence of success, we conducted lengthy, in depth interviews with a diverse group that have left an indelible mark on the world: Nobel laureates and billionaire philanthropists, Olympic champions, four-star generals, television network news anchors, and CEOs of Fortune 50 companies. Surprisingly, these figures were once, as Steve Jobs famously described, “the crazy ones, the misfits, and the troublemakers,” that rose to astonishing levels of success. They freely shared their journeys of self-discovery and transformation — and the factors that influenced them.

Remarkably, the paths to fortune were not discovered by following conventional wisdom or the guidance of life coaches. Instead, they embraced unique identities, guided by Oscar Wilde’s timeless counsel: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” This principle emerged as a common thread, highlighting the transformative power of individuality in achieving unparalleled success.

Unbranding Rights

As we began the study, we discovered a curious link to the 1800s and an iconic Texan rancher named Samuel A. Maverick. He defied conventional norms by letting his cattle roam freely and unbranded on a 300,000-acre ranch. This led fellow ranchers to call his calves mavericks to differentiate them from those who followed the herd.

The Butterfly Moment

The journey of transformation started with a big bang — although at the time it seemed inconspicuous. These moments inspired deep introspection, sparking a process that unlocked the ability to reimagine, improvise and adapt, setting each one on a new, albeit uncertain, trajectory.

In The Essence of Chaos, meteorologist Ed Lorenz called this the butterfly effect “ a phenomenon in which a slight alteration in an early stage will cause subsequent stages to differ significantly from what would have followed without the alteration.”

For some, like General David Petraeus, it was a skeptical question, “Tell me, how does this end?” as he pondered the complexity of war in Iraq. For Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the turning point was his expulsion from the inner circle of Vladimir Putin, marking his precipitous fall from grace. Malcolm Forbes found his epiphany in the challenges of being an overlooked “ugly duckling” within an aristocratic family, overshadowed by an elder sibling who bullied him. Soledad O’Brien’s pivot came when she made the bold decision to drop out of Harvard, choosing instead to expose the shadowy world of meth labs. For Dr. Reatha Clark King, the moment came when her parents gave the ten year old African American girl the right to dream, ‘we want you to get an education so you can grow up to be somebody.”

The Freedom Machine

Embracing individuality was step one.

The second was immersing oneself in the right environment, one that embraced a new set of possibilities that lay ahead. Rather than scoff at ambition or deny their talent, these nurturing communities welcomed and liberated their imaginations.

Whether it was a tangible place like homespun Omaha for Warren Buffett, a values-driven organization like the Army for General Petraeus, a community center that matched a ten-year-old with a world-class swim coach for Michael Phelps, or nestled in the Sikh tradition that preached about the equality of women for Nikki Haley, these communities were instrumental in unlocking hidden potential because it gave them the confidence to go against the grain of society.

Malcolm Forbes called it a “freedom machine,” it took him from being a second-class editor to a world-class impresario of capitalism: “Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”

The Five Tangents

The third step was assembling the right team — a robust support network — was crucial to charting their new course. Our interviews revealed a meticulous approach to how each one assembled their team, mirroring the same kind of diligence a startup visionary like Steve Jobs employed in scouting for top talent.

There were five essential factors, we call them tangents, that our interviewees leaned on whenever they encountered obstacles or detours. It was at that moment the five tangents revealed their value, identifying a gap in planning or thinking. When failure struck, it was usually the result of a tangent gone awol. However, the path to recovery were marked by a swift realignment guided again by the foundational elements.

The first tangent is mentors who paved the way, from historical pioneers to the guiding lights in their lives today, such as leaders, parents, coaches, and teachers.

The second tangent is Mates — soulmates, goal mates, life partners, and confidantes in times of doubt, skeptics in periods of excess, and cheerleaders in moments of triumph.

The third tangent is Mantras — the powerful principles passed down that served as their True North.

The fourth tangent is Methods — solutions that propelled them against the daily grind of formidable challenges.

Finally, and equally important, is the fifth tangent. Metrics served as a grounding force, offering objective benchmarks for evaluating success.

Together, the five tangents formed a robust network that guided our subjects through the complexities of self-discovery. And as we learned, for those who hope to experience exponential growth, job one is to have the tangents lined up.

Unfollow The Herd

“Maverick Rising” transcends the story of success beyond the ordinary goals of making money and achieving fame. It urges readers to embrace their inner nonconformist — inspired by those who rewrote the rules and reshaped the world. This narrative reveals that the essence of true greatness lies in the willingness to explore the vast potential that exists outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.