Blanche’s Book Club: ‘The Challenge Culture’.

Wow, today is such an exciting day for me and my new career venture! Last week, I accepted a regular writing position for “Inside” and I’m so happy to say that the first newsletter of “Inside Austin” will be hitting inboxes TODAY.

IF you’re interested in subscribing to “Inside Austin” (as you should be), sign up here and be on the lookout!

Blanche’s Book Club has also finished yet another book, and this one is a little different (from the usual). Today, we’re talking about “The Challenge Culture: Why The Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback” by Nigel Travis. Here’s the book’s description on Goodreads:

The CEO of Dunkin’ Brands (Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins) shows how positive pushback – the discipline of “questioning everything without trashing anyone” – provides a unique results-oriented way to lead an organization to prosperity.

We live in a world where the move from success to failure can happen in a flash. Customers, competition, changing societal mores, and technology can bring on existential crisis.

But as Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis shows in The Challenge Culture, businesses can cope with change and go on to thrive by instituting a culture that supports positive pushback: questioning everything without trashing anything or anyone.

The ability to get colleagues to break out of conformity–especially when it means upending a culture of fear and authoritarianism – is a rare skill, one Nigel (everyone calls him Nigel) has been developing for decades.

In a distinct, authentic, and authoritative voice, Nigel draws from a wide range of personal experiences – including the way Blockbuster dawdled in the face of the Netflix challenge, his early days at Dunkin’ Donuts, and his recent foray into owning a UK soccer tea – to show how a challenge culture is necessary to provide a human-oriented, results-driven blueprint for building a prosperous future.

To keep up with the times and grow, people need to be allowed to speak up and question the status quo, talk in a civil way about difficult issues, debate across disciplines, disagree about strategies and tactics in order to successfully move forward together.

I have to be honest about a few things here. First, I don’t read “business books” often, although I am generally interested in how successful businesses run. Second, I saw this book on one of the display shelves at the library and added it to my list without knowing much more than what’s on the cover.

That was also before I quit my job and decided to run a Digital Marketing business as a solopreneur.

But it turned out to be JUST the book I needed to read, and at just the right time. Timing is everything, right?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve struggled in 9-5 jobs. There’s many reasons why, but I know one of them is that I’ve experienced workplaces that SAY they want feedback, but said feedback usually leaves a gray cloud over my head.

This book spoke directly about that, and about how common it is for employees to feel this way. I wrote down so many quotes, so excuse me while I nerd out here…

In a Challenge Culture, people are expected to question the status quo, push back on long-held assumptions, and examine and discuss new ideas and proposals, always looking for more and better information, refinements, and more exceptional initiatives. To do all this, people must be encouraged to challenge one another in every direction within the organization: up, down, or sideways. They must not be afraid to speak up, to question their bosses, their peers, and their board – despite the perceived difficulty of doing so – and they should be confident they won’t face unfair repercussions if and when they do.

To many people, the virtue of this kind of challenge may seem obvious. Doesn’t every company value questioning and encourage dialogue? The answer is that most profess to want an open atmosphere and say that questioning is encouraged, but the reality is quite different.

When people believe their positions are on the line, they are less-likely to voice an opinion, question an idea, or push back on a plan. As a result, divergent viewpoints are discouraged, dubious actions continue, decisions get made unilaterally, the loudest voices prevail, initiatives that shouldn’t be pursued go forward. There are clear winners and abject losers. Eventually, good people get frustrated, discouraged, and stifled. Many leave.

…Honestly, I wrote down at least six more, but I don’t want it to look like I’m giving the entire book away. This was such a fresh take on an old issue, I couldn’t help but love it.

I don’t know how quickly my business, The Bitter Lemon, will grow, but if this past month has shown me anything, it’s that I’m on the right path. I have a feeling that I’ll be developing a team sooner than I ever expected, and when that happens – and even now – I want to foster an environment that embraces the Challenge Culture so I can be the best I can be. Otherwise, I’ll just be over here stuck in my ways forever!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be Reading is “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo. I hope you all have a great day, and don’t forget to sign up for the “Inside Austin” newsletter!

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