Challenger Brands Should Start Building A Challenge Network

4 min readJun 18, 2021
Think Again book by Adam Grant

In his new book Think Again, Wharton School professor Adam Grant talks of a defining moment for Pixar. It came in 2000, when director Brad Bird was brought on board and ended up pitching a vision Pixar labelled as impossible.

But rather than simply accept it as a loss, Bird continued undeterred. As the book states:

“He sought out the biggest misfits at Pixar for his project — people who were disagreeable, disgruntled, and dissatisfied. Some called them black sheep. Others called them pirates. When Brad rounded them up, he warned them that no one believed they could pull off the project.

Just four years later, his team didn’t just succeed in releasing Pixar’s most complex film ever; they actually managed to lower the cost of production per minute. The Incredibles went on to gross upwards of $631 million worldwide and won the Oscar for best animated feature.”

While this is just one story of Challengers overcoming the odds, what’s insightful is Grant’s discussion of a challenge network. By bypassing those who might be agreeable and instead building a team of critics, outsiders and fearless creatives, Brad was able to deliver on his ambitions.

It’s the same premise that underpins the success of engaging an agency like 5&Vine. We’re Challengers by nature. A team of people unafraid to ask the tough questions, who constantly examine assumptions and back the underdog with an aim to displace industry Goliaths and upend the status quo.

Quote from Adam Grant’s book Think Again.

Bringing that insight into a business is invaluable. Every successful business is founded on good strategy but sometimes the best-designed strategies fall short of expectations. A team like 5&Vine can see the pitfalls and opportunities and offer an unbiased, critical opinion when brands are on the brink of change or about to launch a new product or service.

People who think like Challengers identify different ways of doing things. As Bird likely did with his challenger network at Pixar, they can ensure a business meets their goals regardless of deadline or budgets.

We recently put all of this to practice with Haute Hijab who engaged 5&Vine as their Fractional CMO and marketing agency last year to architect and amplify the launch of their Can’t Ban Us campaign. Originally, Can’t Ban Us was to be a short-lived campaign to support the launch of their sports hijab. We challenged that premise as the idea was too important to be fleeting. We helped transform it into a flagship program that engaged the community to overturn discriminatory bans across the world.

Haute Hijab’s “Can’t Ban Us” campaign.

Like any great Challenger, Haute Hijab already had all the ingredients for a winning campaign. They had a strong product, a powerful campaign message and a roster of empowering individuals both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. But, by expanding their challenge network to include 5&Vine, welcoming an outside perspective and asking the tough questions, we were able to elevate their work.

As a result of our collaboration, Haute Hijab had their single largest day of sales and achieved high profile press coverage in the likes of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Pop Sugar and Fashionista. On social media too, the community shared stories and experiences of empowerment that still resonate today.

More specifically, we were able to help them roll out the campaign in a way that had lasting impact, featuring athlete stories before the products themselves, and mobilizing their community to engage.

Whether you’re engaging a team like 5&Vine, hiring someone new or looking at how you can inspire your team in new ways, there’s a lot to learn from having a challenge network. Lean into diversity, engage with those on the team who think differently and are unafraid to swim against the tide. Surround yourself with individuals who you believe can make the impossible, possible.

As Grant says:

“Rethinking depends on a different kind of network: a challenge network, a group of people we trust to point out our blind spots and help us overcome our weaknesses. Their role is to push us to be humble about our expertise, doubt our knowledge, and be curious about what knowledge we don’t have.”

It’s time to start building your challenge network.

For more on bringing a Fractional CMO on board and figuring out when the right time to do so is, read our post When Is It Time To Bring A Fractional CMO On Board?




5&Vine is a Marketing Agency and Fractional CMO for Challenger Brands.