Catalyst Branding

The Power of a Challenger Mentality

May 6, 2013

I’ve been working for the past few months with some good friends who epitomize the spirit of a challenger mentality. These folks have examined every facet of their current industry and intimately understand where and how it must be transformed to serve clients better. They’re innovating new products and evangelizing the better way. In the process, they’re building momentum every day.

It’s exciting to be around them. They’re magnetic. Their zeal is infectious and their example is universal.

Earlier in my career, I had the chance to work in a truly challenger organization. We were much the same. We saw ourselves as liberators who could unleash clients through a better way. We transformed our industry through a combination of innovation and evangelism. Our purpose united us internally and our clients could feel it as they worked with us. The work we did then has met the test of time.

It is clear that approaching the market with a challenger mentality yields dramatic returns. Whether it be challenging the status quo in a product category, disrupting a market or transforming an entire industry, the firms that leveraged this perspective to drive innovation and liberate customers have been my most successful clients.

Challengers do important things better.

Challengers understand their markets from the inside out. They learn by working within the current paradigm. They delve deeply into how the current paradigm works. They understand the needs of customers and assess how well those needs are being served by the tools of the day.

They take the time to appreciate the points of pain. Challengers become the customer’s champion. They understand the flaws in the current paradigm and quantify the opportunities lost by imposing this pain on customers and prospects.

They use this understanding as a catalyst for innovation. What makes challengers special is their capacity to use this insight as the foundation for transformative innovation that liberates customers from the flaws of the existing paradigm.

They evangelize – inside and out. Unfortunately, customers often don’t realize that they’re being underserved. Inertia is a very powerful impediment to progress. Challengers seize the bully pulpit – first internally to turn their people into believers and then externally to help those underserved to appreciate that there is a better way.

They encourage early adopters. Challengers understand the process of influence within their marketplace. They seek out and convert the influencers, analysts and early adopters and then leverage these thought leaders to build credibility with the masses.

They progressively innovate. Challengers don’t stop there. They hone as they learn. There is no one and done. They use their disruption skills to disrupt the new paradigm they’ve created to better serve the evolving needs of their customers.

They challenge themselves. The most successful challengers remain challengers. Challengers never let themselves believe that they’ve achieved their ultimate goal. It’s never truly finished. It can be made better and will likely need to be transformed again and again to keep pace with the ever evolving needs of the marketplace.

Sadly, once a challenger begins to think of itself as a leader, the things that made it successful begin to fade away.

Where a challenger is always open to a new and better ways, leaders often comfort themselves with the notion that they’ve found the answer.

Where a challenger is always listening for those attempting to disrupt the new paradigm they’ve shaped, leaders often become insular and haughty, dismissing any potential threat as meaningless.

Where challengers attract the most agile and talented the market has to offer, leaders begin to draw those who are comforted by the safety of the successful status quo.

In the end, the challenger shapes and reshapes the industry while the leader basks in the momentary and fleeting glow of success.

I’m just on my way home from spending a week with the firm that embodies the power of the challenger. What a wonderful way to make a living.

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