Why you need a challenge network

As crucial as your support network might be for encouragement, motivation and comfort when times get tough, there’s another type of network that you shouldn’t forget. That’s a challenge network, a concept coined by psychologist and author Adam Grant.
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What is a challenge network?

It’s a group of people (and it can be just one or two) that basically tell it to you straight: constructive, brutally honest feedback on your work or ideas on an ongoing basis. They’re not afraid to openly debate with you on what you’re doing, because they want you to reach your very best level. Based on Adam’s work, there are a few key things to remember. 

• If your normal response to negative feedback is to ignore or avoid it, you’ll need to mentally change your approach. 

• The aim is to improve your creative process rather than the outcome – this isn’t about focusing on the binary of success or failure. 

• They’re often set up in two ways: structured conversations revolve around bigger, long-term projects where iterative feedback is handy, like if you’re launching a new product; or unstructured conversations are a lot more spontaneous and off the cuff, like asking partners if there’s anything you could be doing better. 

Where to find your own 

• Start small, with that one person you trust completely who will always tell you exactly what they think. 

• Slowly build out your challenge network over time. Think about other friends of yours, family members or past colleagues who you’ve engaged in debates with in the past. That doesn’t mean naysayers or cynics, but those who aren’t afraid to disagree with you. 

• Think about people you know through social or community groups outside work, such as sports teams, book clubs or dance classes. Ideally, you want to build a network of people outside your usual network, with different backgrounds to yours. The more diverse the better, say studies.

• Look outside your immediate network. Ask friends to introduce you to contacts of theirs working in different fields and disciplines, who they think might be open to starting a mutually beneficial relationship.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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