September 25, 2017

A call for innovation in disruptive times

There’s no denying that today’s business landscape is a battlefield with no rules; at times it seems like a boxing bout with opponents from mixed weights. The game has changed and businesses, and their leaders, need to disrupt themselves and build their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation capabilities to stay agile and relevant.

The reality today is that ambitious new businesses can come and go within a matter of months, it not weeks or days. World-renowned or long-established corporate majors with decades of achievements and accolades can be easily knocked down by agile startups within a year, if not less. Simply put, there is no longer a guaranteed blueprint of business success.

As Marshall Goldsmith, one of the world’s most influential business thinkers, once said: “What got you here, won’t get you there.” Companies cannot and should not rely on the old-school “business as usual” approach that was once successful to guarantee their future wins.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, when there are basically no rules in the current market, when technology-driven disruption of entire markets and industries can happen overnight, and when non-traditional competitors can appear without warning with devastating impact, you now know that the world is in the age of disruption.

In fact, these are the most exciting and the most threatening times to be leading a business, as there have never been greater opportunities or bigger threats. Many of the largest companies in the world today were established within the last few decades and in industries that didn’t even exist before. At the same time, many household names have simply disappeared.

The speed and scale of change seem to increase exponentially and every business and economy in the world is scrambling to respond. In order to respond, companies need to act fast enough to constantly come up with new innovations.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, once said: “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.

In this sense, it is no longer about what size fish you are, but it is the motion of the ocean that will determine your position in the market. Firms that are quick to develop and execute an effective strategy, regardless of their size, have the opportunity to stand out from competitors that are slower to adapt.

Simply stated, you need to understand that today’s businesses play by different rules, and time has become a key success factor; hence, I’d say businesses need to change at a faster pace. They need to call for innovation at every step of the way.

This new imperative has given rise to some somewhat unconventional approaches to business development and strategy being prototyped and pioneered around the world. We can also see that businesses are trying to embed a startup mentality into their organisations so that their people will be encouraged to think and always innovate like entrepreneurs.

The truth is, your new biggest competitor will likely come from outside the industry. Most likely it will be a smaller business or startup that innovates like crazy. These newcomers compete by changing the industry business model, which can make your business irrelevant overnight, not by improving existing products and services.

It’s never been easier to start a business. Anyone with a laptop can create a new business model and leverage networks and platforms to access a global market with almost zero investment or overheads. Consequently, new competitors are turning even the largest and most established industries and businesses upside down. They turn the traditional strengths and barriers to entry of established businesses against them as their size, sunk costs and fixed assets become liabilities in the face of agile, low-cost new entrants with a better product or service.

The bottom line is that executives and business leaders need to be aware of this fact. They need to see that to survive in this disruptive time, there is nothing more critical than a call for innovation, because without an internal commitment to innovation, even the strongest brands in the slowest-moving industries will eventually wither and die.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at or

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