May 28, 2018

The harsh reality of disruption

Disruption has been the never-ending buzz heard around the business world for the past few years. Ever since startups began rattling industries from hotels to entertainment and transport, fear of being disrupted has been keeping business leaders awake at night. Even large organisations that once thought they were untouchable are no longer immune.

Because of this, business leaders in multiple industries have significantly increased spending on initiatives to make their organisations disruption-proof or to drive disruptive innovations of their own. But is there any surefire way to disruption-proof your organisation?

The answer lies in how you and your organisation perceive disruption. Disruption has a negative connotation but when you look at it from another perspective, you will also see it as a path towards advancing our world further.

Without disruptors such as Netflix, Airbnb or Uber, we would still be stuck in the same old ways. We didn’t even know we would need such services before they came out. But the disruptors took the plunge anyway in the belief that they had viable new business models.

But the harsh reality is that even these disruptors are at risk of joining the ranks of the disrupted unless they continue to advance and innovate. Disruption wastes no time and spares no one.

First, there is no such thing as a “disruption guidebook”. There might be blogs and books that will help you face the challenge but at the end of the day, what might work for one business might not necessarily work for yours. You probably will view disruption differently from other organisations depending on your industry, market, region, and so on.

In any case, disruptors don’t use guidebooks in the first place. If startups, or any other organisation for that matter, simply followed the examples of other successful businesses today, then we wouldn’t have Netflix or Airbnb.

Second, disruptive leaders must be leaders who are open to new ways. The key word in disruption is transformation. Any kind of transformation or change must begin within, usually with leaders who are the ones who inspire others.

The openness that leaders must show is deeply connected to their mindset. It is easy to fix behaviour, but it is not sustainable for future business growth, and definitely not sustainable in the face of disruption. Everything begins with the mindset, including willingness to change behaviour. Changing your mindset is harder than changing your behaviour, but it is essential.

Third, disruption has a great deal to do with organisational culture and how quickly you can bring about change. In addition to a shift in mindset among your leaders, disruption also calls for change within the rest of the people in the organisation.

To inspire your people to change and to build a culture of change, working with speed is crucial as disruption is quick by nature. But the problem is that culture — the established way of doing things — is so deeply rooted that trying to change it can create a lot of negativity throughout the organisation.

Fourth, disruption doesn’t always mean winning. Disruption represents progressive steps that advance our world forward. But, even if at some point you have caused disruption, there will always be tougher competition that could someday disrupt you. The point is, you cannot rest easy no matter what stage of disruption your find yourself in.

Fifth, disruption is all about the bigger picture of our world. An organisation working towards eliminating the pain points of its customers through innovation is one thing — but this is just a small part of the bigger picture of disruption.

The bigger picture extends to your immediate society and eventually our world. The goals and visions of organisations that want to rise above disruption must be ambitious enough that they reach beyond what we initially sought out to do — the greater purpose.

In order to take advantage of disruption, business leaders must deploy a tailored strategy. You can do this by first understanding your industry’s current position. There are some industries that are more vulnerable and susceptible to disruption than others, while others might take a much longer time.

It is true that disruption can strike an entire industry at any given moment. But it is important to remember that disruption is one of the reasons our world advances. It is fear that hinders organisations from undertaking transformation and innovating in order to keep up with disruption.

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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