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August 3, 2021 30 min

A challenger is someone who ignores old thought patterns, doesn't let others hold them back, and confronts the dominant player. In the story of David and Goliath, David defeated the giant because he approached him differently. As an organization, you need to think differently to challenge a well-accepted market leader. Challengers fight smarter, with focus and a clear purpose. Being a challenger is a mindset as much as anything else. 

How to Become the Innovation Challenger

History is full of innovation challengers that upset prominent industries. Take Google, for example. Yahoo had 95% of the market share when Google started. Google's success came when they pivoted their innovation to an automated page rank algorithm. The most popular pages floated to the top, which people loved. Google stayed focused and had a purpose, resulting in a David and Goliath type of victory. They currently have around 92% of the market share.

Another example is SpaceX. Space exploration and travel used to be strictly government-based. In 2006, SpaceX challenged the space launch monopoly that Lockheed Martin and Boeing held. As a result, SpaceX went from a 1.5% market share in 2008 to roughly a 22% market share in 2020. How does SpaceX differentiate itself? By reusing rockets after launches, saving millions of dollars. Google and SpaceX are now Goliaths because they became innovation challengers. 

Establishing an Innovation Challenger Mindset

Firstly, you need to understand the Goliath deeply. It would help if you studied the culture, organization, key influencers from the inside and out, investors, board, company history, etc. If possible, buy and use their products. Follow them on social media, sign up for newsletters, call their support line, buy through their sales channels, etc.

Secondly, accept all negative feedback as opportunities. Don't rationalize away people's complaints about your products or ideas. Use them as ways to improve. Practice active listening and address feedback. An excellent example of this is Zoom. At the beginning of COVID, Zoom quickly rose to the top but started having issues. To address these issues, they did regular meetings to gather feedback from people. They responded successfully to the problems, leading them to where they are today. 

Thirdly, look for other parallel industries that have challengers. It is surprising how many ideas you can take from totally unrelated areas. Figure out how to apply what you have learned from other industries to your own. Number four is to build an "innovation red team, " a team of outsiders that challenges your assumptions. You want these people to be brutally honest with you and to point out your blind spots. I still have blind spots, even though I've been in the innovation game for forty years. It is vital to permit these people to challenge you. Doing this will make you more successful as an organization.

Lastly, encourage your team to experiment and try new things. Have a culture that teaches failure as a learning experience and not a negative thing. 

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