September 12, 2017

Disruption is the new normal

Our world is changing at an accelerating pace. In fact, we can say that disruption is now the new normal.

In this business landscape, if companies want to at least survive or even thrive in the present or in the near future, they will need leaders in this world of disruption.

The reality is that business is becoming ever more complex at a greater speed, yet not many leaders feel that their organisations are adjusting or preparing fast enough to handle the next level of change and complexity.

Companies are facing challenges they would never have imagined 10 years ago. The Asean Economic Community, growing internationalism and an increasingly volatile economy are realities our future leaders will need to deal with. Economic problems in Greece, a small country on the other side of the world, can have an impact on Thai markets. There is no such thing as an independent country or economy any more. Our world is very complex and complicated, and it is only becoming more so in this era.

The question is, what would be the implications for leaders during such volatile times? What does it take to respond to these challenges? What can they do in order to disrupt themselves before being disrupted?

What surprised me the most is that there are still some executives who are hoping and waiting for things to return to “normal” when, in reality, that is never going to happen. You cannot just sit around and wait when disruption is the new normal and it comes with a call to action for companies and leaders alike to adapt and disrupt themselves.

In the world we are living in today, if we’re not disrupting ourselves, we will soon be disrupted. In other words, to change before we have to is a much better path to take than to change because we have to.

Success requires leaders and organisations not just to do better, but to excel at the ability to do things differently. Those that fail to transform will be left behind by their competitors.

I’d say leadership is critical in this new normal. In fact, leadership has never been more important, nor has it ever been harder, since it can render a long-term success and help organisations to survive in this unpredictable climate.

Moreover, when changes are difficult to forecast, leaders must be agile and nimble, yet robust enough to identify opportunities for growth and determine selective capabilities — the ones they need to develop and those they need to source through the market.

In other words, this calls for leaders to be resilient.

Resilience is not a high-profile feature of leadership the way vision, communication or strategy is, but it is rapidly becoming clear that resiliency is going to be a required feature for future success.

In details, resilience is the ability to find a way to embrace disruption, handle uncertainty and move out of comfort zones to accept the unfamiliar. Resilient leaders are good listeners. They do not try to know everything, but they are willing to seriously listen to people with different skills and experiences, from all levels. They value new knowledge and ideas based on quality and value, not on who the ideas come from.

Resilient leaders work with options, not solutions. They work with several possible plans, rather than throw all their resources into a single plan. This gives them flexibility and the means to adapt quickly.

What’s more, they know how to assess risk and are not afraid of selecting one option over the other when needed.

At high levels, strategic planning for plausible future risks and obstacles will help a company build plans to survive and bounce back from adversity. At the individual level, leaders will be able to use their experience and skills to avoid or survive setbacks, while focusing on a better future even if the present looks difficult.

Simply stated, when disruption is the new normal, for an organisation to become disruptive it has to start with having disruptive leaders. Disruptive or reinvention-agile leaders are those who are both willing and able to seek out, meekly accept and diligently explore while quickly adapting to incoming unforeseen uncertainties within their industry and market.

Essentially, it must be noted that this has to be done at the right time; and when talking about the right time, I’m referring to the time before the organisation gets into trouble, not during or after, when resources are scarce and fear is contagious.

Still, as a leader myself, I also know that it is truly difficult in deciding to cannibalise existing activities at the peak of success. This is partly because success traditionally comes with a natural mindset to create a stable environment not open to change, which could potentially paralyse organisations. In other words, to disrupt your “business as usual” approach could be perceived as daunting — but trust me, in today’s world such an approach can only bring you failure.

Change is hard. As leaders we need to be assured that whatever has brought us here today will not necessary replicate success going forward. As a result, I’d suggest that we need to constantly remind ourselves to keep the best of the past and change everything else that is necessary in order to move forward and reinvent. That means we need to fix the roof while the sun is shining, because when change happens, whether it is cyclical or structural, it will be at the most insanely rapid pace.

Last but not least, I’d say that in today’s ever-changing world, disruption is here to stay and it means your business model can either be leap-frogged or turned on its head in a matter of seconds. If you wish to stay relevant, the impetus to think disruptively must come from the top. It’s in your hands.

Arinya Talerngsri is chief capability officer and managing director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup), an executive, leadership and innovation capability development centre. She can be reached by email at, or visit for more information.

First Published at BangkokPost