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Do you have a Challenger mindset?

Why challenging convention is at the root of personal success

I've always been interested in people who persist against the odds in pursuing their dream. As someone who has a Challenger mindset myself, I know how difficult and frustrating it can be to get other more conventional thinkers to see things my way.

In my work with brands - some large some smaller - I meet a lot of people in the course of my projects, and the question I ask of each of them is ‘Do you have a Challenger mindset’? Invariably they all say yes. After all, who wants to be labelled as conventional in their thinking?

But if I dig a little further, I start to wonder whether they have a clear understanding of what this is and what it means for their business or career choices. In this article I’m going to explain my understanding and experience of this, and why we need to be teaching our kids how to develop this as a positive mindset rather than seeking their unquestioning compliance in how they behave and what they say.

A Challenger mindset is a powerful force and has the ability to move mountains when it’s applied in the right way. However, it can also make you unpopular.

There’s a lot of talk about resilience as a desirable characteristic, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. However, if you need to be resilient in the face of something that is difficult or an individual or business that doesn’t agree with your stance – that requires a Challenger mindset to be present in the first place. Resilience is then how you actually get things done.

Having a Challenger mindset can be very helpful in pursuing your own goals as well as those in business. How many amateur runners take on the impossible goal of running a full marathon, and then set increasingly ambitious goals in terms of how long that takes? How many teachers working in difficult and deprived locations in our towns, cities, and villages refuse to accept the inevitability of lost life opportunities for their students? How many times has a failed cook tried to bake the perfect souffle?

For many of us, the need to push against the conventional thinking and mediocre outcomes is deeply ingrained. For some, the only outlet is to begin their own businesses, but with an average failure rate of 90% for start-ups, it’s understandable why this route is not always the preferred one for most people. So we need to find ways to harness the Challenger mindset within existing businesses, and harness the potential for growth which will inevitably mean accepting disruption and discomfort.

Some larger companies have resorted to confining this to ‘Incubator’ groups. Treating this disruptive force like a virus that they fear could get out of hand, they have locked it into a ‘safe zone’ so the rest of the business will avoid being infected, with the hope that something new will emerge that will easily slip into their existing ways of working. It rarely succeeds, and people recruited to these in-house disruptive groups will soon leave when they realise that they are in reality being squashed back into some form of convention.

This all matters when individuals are making career choices. I’ve seen some really great people in large companies lose their ‘Challenger’ spark in order to fit in, or they risk being sidelined, overlooked for promotion, or discarded in the next ‘restructure’. In a big company you quickly discover that you need to keep your head down and not make too many ripples if you want to get ahead.

Children are the best examples of Challenger mindsets, asking uncomfortable questions that usually begin with ‘Why’. And what is our response? More often than not, we’ll start with some vague answers that we hope will ‘shut them up’, especially when we’re busy, and get annoyed when they persist. If we shut down their thinking at this stage, chances are that they will never recover the confidence to challenge conventions or expectations later in life.

Having a Challenger mindset is an important element in building resilience, persistence, and the ability to pursue your goals no matter how crazy others might think they are. It is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship and drives start ups to keep going even when there's seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

If know someone with a Challenger mindset go and congratulate them - and then make sure you learn from their dogged determination to pursue your own goals.

Next: The role of Challenger brands in a market and why they have to think differently to be successful.

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