August 2014 |

Guy Strafford

Over the centuries, the development of thought and constant challenge of the world around us has enabled mankind to achieve some amazing breakthroughs, which have transformed our lives:


Mass media 1041: Bi Sheng invented the first known movable type that led the way for the modern printing press, which Johannes Gutenberg invented in 1439
Technology 1833: Charles Babbage invented the first programmable computer
Medicine 1928: Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin to fight harmful bacteria and infections 
Agriculture 1831: Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick reaper – a mechanical mass-harvesting machine
Aviation 1903: Orville and Wilbur Wright recorded the first sustained flight with a power controlled aircraft


What all these inventions have in common is that they stem from looking at a situation from a different perspective or context.

If we look back over the past 10 years, it may seem that the scale of new inventions (in the context of altering our lives) compared to a century ago is much smaller. However, what is actually happening is that we (humans) are now constantly developing and sharing new discoveries more frequently, rather than relying on big-bang inventions thought up by individuals. Furthermore, we no longer take concepts and ideas on face value. Due to the sheer amount of information we consume daily we have begun to challenge preconceptions, concepts and traditional thinking, on their application in the world today.

Globalisation has made the world a smaller place. Information travels faster and further than ever before due to technological advances in how we interact with one-another. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have challenged the very fabric of human communications. New ideas now constantly flow – constantly building on the previous one to make the next just that little bit better. US author and Harvard Business Professor, Clayton Christensen, coined this innovation process as “sustaining innovations”, in which the original idea was not radically changed, just evolved to its next state to create more value.

Innovators, by definition, want to simply create new value within the same market by finding a better way of doing something. But there is another side to this proverbial coin…

The Challenger (AKA the Disrupter)

Whilst innovators major on constant development, Challengers question the status quo. Challengers look at a situation and ask ‘why do this in the first place’ before asking ‘what next’. The goal of the Challenger is the same as the innovator, but the Challenger wants to disrupt, displace or shock the market in such a radical way, that it ends up creating a new market.

Henry Ford was one of the original Challengers, famously saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple, also aligned to the Challenger way of thinking by stating that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Whilst both of these examples were also technically innovators, they differed from the conventional pack to come up with something so drastically different that it changed the very structure of the original category.

This is often the undoing of many Challengers, they take the challenge that one step too far and come up with something that is either beyond comprehension (e.g. flying cars) or they stray too far out of a category to become unrecognised by the masses (e.g. the Diamond Rio PMP300, the first portable MP3 player developed in 1998 – released at the peak of CD consumption).

Below are some examples of modern challenges to the original categories that have successfully challenged and gained adoption (not easily I might add):

Mass media The advent of social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has revolutionised not only the way we report on news itself but more fundamentally how we consume, share and engage with media – pushing the freedom of speech agenda to a new level.
Technology The concept of the Internet of Things has changed the way manufacturers build everything from appliances, to cars, to bus stations – rather than increase the range of wireless, the plan is to build everything with the ability to connect to the web.
Medicine The development of the Human Genome Project set out to understand humans better, rather than continually treat ever evolving illness and disease. 
Agriculture Genetically modified food enables farmers to better service the world’s food demands by artificially managing the crop’s performance – rather than buying more seeds and hoping for a good season. 
Aviation The development of drones has radically altered the direction of aviation, in particular for military purposes… and Amazon’s postal service.


Finding the right mix of challenge and innovation can be difficult (Steve Jobs failed 7 times before he found his groove). And whilst different in their approach, the traits at the core of both Challengers and innovators are almost identical.

The Challenger Mindset

We will be sharing 10 common traits of Challengers, plus any other snippets, case studies or items that exemplify Challenger behaviour. 

You can read the first one here: The Challenger banks

This new series aims to share insights and views from Challengers around the world, covering all walks of life – from business, to culture, to art.

Whilst the main focus of the series isn’t specifically about procurement, each post will hopefully inspire you to look at what you do differently and challenge yourself, the people around you, and your business, in what they know and believe.

I will be on the hunt of good Challenger stories, so please get in touch if you have one that you would like to share – and I am honest when I say it can be about anything at all!