Being the Challenger

The word 'challenge' and its many derivations has been on my mind for quite some time. It is one of the concepts that drive my day-to-day life: if I see something as being a challenge, then it is worth doing. Having heard the word countless times during the last couple of years, it sometimes felt that it was being overused by the impulse of projecting an image of importance to everything people do. It made me wonder what exactly gives this word its inherent magic and what it really means to be the one taking the proactive approach of the concept: that of being the challenger. So I started my own little inquiry into the origins, meaning and perception of the word.

The origins and meaning

It seems that the verb 'to challenge' did not start out having such a positive feeling as it does nowadays; its origins come from the Latin 'calumniari', which literally means 'to accuse falsely'. In time its meaning has evolved into a much more diplomatic one: to dispute, to question or to dare an idea or a given situation.

The perception

However, a simple dictionary entry would not do. Considering that in the world of identity and image 'you are who people say you are', I started to look for the perception of the concept, to see how people understand the challenger and how they interpret its meaning. I rallied all my Facebook friends and engaged them in a discussion, asking what the concept of being a challenger means to them.

Of course, no answer was like the other. Which proves that dictionary entries cannot set the mainstream perception for a concept. I gathered all these answers and tried to find some common ground to understand the concept better. What resulted was a collection of three main characteristics for the challenger:


  • 'does not follow the rules'
  • 'unique way of thinking'
  • 'does things differently'
  • 'breaks existing boundaries'


  • 'fights against the odds'
  • 'never gives up'
  • 'has courage and enthusiasm'
  • 'always asks why and why not'


  • 'tries to change the world starting with his/her own vision or perception'
  • 'tries to be a better person, to change him/herself'
  • 'there is no status quo for the challenger'

Depending on personality, each challenger has one, two or (rarely) all three of these character sets.

The focus

Going further, I placed the challenger back into context, aiming to reveal his/her focus in relation to their inner self and their environment.

The challenger’s triple focus:

  1. To challenge themselves = inward, self-to-self
  2. To challenge others around them = outward, one-on-one
  3. To challenge the generally-accepted (mainstream) perceptions = outward, one-on-many

The motivation

But one question still remained unanswered: What is the real motivation for a challenger? To what purpose or goal does the challenger challenge?

This time I searched for answers inside our own team at Total Active Media and Total Identity. Our core belief is that by 'challenging ambition' we help organizations reinvent themselves. I wanted to find out what purpose drives us to being challengers. So I set up a couple of instant video 'tweets' with my colleagues and then started searching for clues. The following ad-hoc compilation is the sum of what I believe to be the essence of the challenger.

A couple of key words keep coming into focus in this video:

The motivation becomes clear: we are challengers because we want to drive the change and help make the change; change that generates progress; progress for a better and brighter future. It all begins to look like a long-term strategic plan where change is the short-term goal, the tangible, achievable thing. And that is exactly how you build a better future: by starting with the here and now, by starting with the change.

As we change, so does language. It is a living organism, adapting to its context. So if you do have a different view about 'being the challenger', we'd love being challenged to a discussion!

To find out more about Being the Challenger, please contact us directly 

Martijn Arts

Managing director, Total Active Media
T +31 20 750 94 25