Have the courage to challenge

15 Aug
August 15, 2013

The ability to challenge views, approaches, assumptions and norms are central to building upon our current knowledge and to learn about new things.  I’m concerned that the explosion of social media and the fact that we can now all have our “15 minutes of fame” is taking its toll on our willingness to challenge and therefore potentially restricting our ability to learn.


There’s no getting away from the explosion of social media or the impact – both good and bad – that it’s having on our business and personal lives.  We are now able to run our own LinkedIn pages, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, Pinterest walls and so on.  We now have the ability to share our thoughts more widely than ever before.

This ability to build and nurture our own online presence is – at times – having a negative impact.  I would argue that for many, the desire or indeed desperation to maintain a “clear and clean” presence is detracting from our natural desire as professionals to debate and challenge.

I’m therefore wondering if this seeming lack of challenge could be potentially impairing our understanding and learning.  One website  which encouraged debating amongst young people said, “The formulation of unique arguments involves major mental muscle. During a debate, the ability to form cogent rebuttals while listening to your opponent requires nothing less than an agile mind. Throughout these, a young debater can only grow sharper.”

Business context

Over the past seven years I’ve done a great deal of work with the UK civil nuclear industry.  As a nuclear professional you are expected – indeed demanded – to operate at a level well above that commonly found in general business.  This is because the consequences of mistakes can be catastrophic.

As part of being a nuclear professional, INPO – the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations – together with WANO – the World Association of Nuclear Operators – have developed a series of principles and traits that all nuclear professionals should possess.  One of these states that “A questioning attitude is cultivated.”  This means not taking things for granted, never being complacent and challenging when unsure.

This healthy level of challenge is never aimed at an individual and is never negative.  A challenge is all about trying to get a better outcome.  A failure to challenge is a missed opportunity to learn and improve.

But back to the social media spaces.  Challenge can be – and often is – seen as either negative or argumentative and as a result people are reluctant to step in and have their say for fear of attack or ridicule.

I’ve seen some great debates online, especially in the LinkedIn CIPD members’ area where Mike Morrison runs a “debate of the week”.  There is a healthy level of challenge which results in real learning for all.  And surely this can only be a good thing.  As Colin Powell, ex. US Secretary of State and a four-star General said, “Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in your own backyard.”

At the well-attended Learning Technologies conference, Tony Buzan – the man behind Mind Maps gave his thoughts on Tweeting saying, “Only post upbeat, informational, inspirational, developmental.”  Sorry Tony, ignoring challenge is to ignore the opportunity of making things better, of reducing errors, of squashing inequality and of stamping out the bloody stupid.

Pastor Martin-Niemöller (1892–1984) challenged the sloth of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.  Martin famously wrote:

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Remember – challenge is good, challenge is healthy and challenge will find what’s right.


Rather than blindly posting links to articles, tweeting or retweeting news, or being afraid to have your say in a forum, why not add your thoughts to the conversation to provide constructive challenge? I’m sure you’ll find that you learn more than you thought possible.

Call to action

Go on, give it a go and have the courage to challenge.

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