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Challengers Provoke Positive Disruption and Agility

Agile organizations have a high tolerance for dissent. In fact, they even encourage it. This is the magic of Pixar. The company rarely tries to do the same thing twice and each movie is a new creation with many different ideas. Pixar knows that initial ideas are what they call “ugly babies.” All new ideas begin somewhat awkwardly, being incomplete and fragile. They recognize that every movie begins with ill-defined concepts. Pixar therefore is highly disciplined at iterating these ideas to make them better. To do this, the creative teams openly challenge and scrutinize ideas. Creators know that this is a give-and-take kind of process and some of their ideas will not make it beyond infancy. Others, however, are beautified and incorporated into remarkable movies. For this to happen, dissent must be encouraged.

Not every organization is hard-wired for the for the give-and-take nature of Pixar. These organizations need to more openly embrace their internal challengers. They need to provide space for dissention. Challengers have the potential to provoke positive disruption by ushering in new, bold ideas. They can enable agility by disrupting the status quo and breaking down barriers to progress. They charge through the brick walls within organizations to ensure progress. However, challengers are more often than not, marginalized and pushed to the edge of the organizational network because they look and act differently. The result is, their ideas are rarely even considered.

Just consider the early days of HP. Chuck House, a young engineer at the time, was eager to build a large-screen display monitor which customers were asking for. David Packard himself told House it was a stupid idea and that he needed to abandon it. Instead, House, a challenger, started sharing his prototype with customers. The feedback was so positive that he was able to convince his R&D manager to put the monitor into production. The product was a huge market success, and years later, David Packard presented House with a medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance.” This level of disobedience is rarely tolerated in most organizations and often leads to retribution. Yet, endorsing some level of constructive dissent is essential for agility.

Brokers discover ideas, connectors develop them, and energizers diffuse them. Challengers, on the other hand, provoke positive disruption by ushering in bold ideas as the new normal. They ignite change from within an organization by leveraging external demands as a catalyst for innovation. They enable agility by positively disrupting the status quo and breaking down barriers to progress. Old habits are hard to break. Challengers recognize that the world is changing rapidly and they need to help position their organizations to respond wisely to these changes. In today’s positively disrupt or be disrupted world, organizations need to provide the space to more openly engage challengers.

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