HelloMasters Podcast Episode 16 – NYT bestseller, Fortune 500 board advisor, Charlene Li on “The Disruptive Mindset”

HelloMasters Episode 16

Nearly every company is involved in some form of digital transformation, but how many are actually seeing it pay off? The answer is surprisingly few. New research by Bain & Company finds that only 8% of global companies have been able to achieve their targeted business outcomes. Executives have started all kinds of change programs to survive and thrive in today’s erratic business climate.  From digital transformation, innovation labs, agile and scrum, self-steering teams, and internal startups. Times are changing, but what do you really need to be successful in today’s business climate? 

Today we talk with Fortune 500 board room consultant, keynote speaker (from WEF in Davos to TED talks) and * drumroll* HelloMaaS advisory board member Charlene Li from San Fransisco. I first learned about Charlene in 2008 at the SXSW conference in Austin where she published her bestselling book Groundswell, a great inspiration, and framework for the management consulting work I did at that time with Philips in Amsterdam, followed by Samsung and their global marketing team out of Korea. 

I had the great privilege to work directly with Charlene when I headed up social media at JPMorganChase a few years later. Charlene and I worked side by side and together with the c-suite of the bank in digital transformation. To add to her already impressive resume, she’s the New York Times bestselling author of six books, including her newest release, hot off the press this September, The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Businesses Transform While Others Fail. “To be competitive, it’s no longer enough to be innovative – you must have a strategy for disruptive growth, a plan to identify and seize an opportunity no one else has the audacity or confidence to reach for.”

It begs the question of what it takes for a company to be disruptive. What kind of structures, rules, and regulations does a company need in order to enable this?  “Disruptive organizations of any size have three beliefs that drive them: openness (speed and access of information); agency and bias for action.” Noticeable is that companies may know what it takes, and can see the benefits, but still choose not to pursue the opportunity: “Most organizations know what to do, and still choose not to go into it because the implications are just too disruptive for them to handle.”

Learn more about Charlene and connect with her for advice on HelloMaaS




[00:00:00] Intro HelloMasters

[00:00:30] Introduction Louise

[00:00:50] Quote from Charlene’s book 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong.” 

“Only 8% of global companies have been able to achieve their targeted business outcomes through digital transformation.” – Louise 

[00:02:20] Introduction Charlene Li

[00:03:40] Why does Charlene do what she does?

[00:04:00] Proudest Achievement

“Writing my first book. There’s nothing like the first one.” – Charlene

[00:05:10] Are books still the best way for Charlene to convey her thinking? 

“I dont think of it as just as a book. It’s one artifact. Books are proven to be very resilient. People still love to have them.” – Charlene

“Why should we force people to learn and absorb new ideas in only one format?” – Charlene

“It was the process of writing the book that got all my ideas on paper.” – Charlene

[00:07:00] Researching methods

[00:08:50] Getting the right people at the table

“I tend to talk to the top leaders, because they can give you the full spectrum.” – Charlene

“Often we think about the digital part of digital transformation, and kind of assume that the transformation part will just take care of itself.”- Charlene

[00:10:40] Modus operandi 

“Having outside expertise is extremely helpful. But to wholesale outsource it to someone else is a huge mistake.” – Charlene

“The places where I see this has worked, is where it’s driven from the top ánd the bottom.” – Charlene

“We have shrunk the power distance inside an organisation. Which makes it easier to align entire organisations against a common objective.” – Charlene

[00:12:20] What kind of industries did you speak to?

“I wanted to get as many perspectives as possible.”

“I didn’t want to learn from the usual suspects – Google, Uber, etc. – because people think I can’t be like them.”

“I wanted to look at organizations that the rest of us can relate to.”

[00:14:30] Summary of her learnings

“It’s not disruption that creates growth, it’s growth that is disruptive.”

“Most organizations know what to do, and still choose not to go into it because the implications are just too disruptive for them to handle.”

“What can get people excited and aligned is a simple thing that disruptive companies do really well: the focus on future customers.”

“The companies who have a clear idea who that customer is, will make the hard decisions today to chase after that customer of tomorrow.”

[00:16:30] Startup vs corporates – operating models

“Disruptive organizations of any size have three beliefs that drive them: openness (speed and access of information); agency; bias for action.” 

“Startups can only focus on future customers, because they have no current customers.”

[00:20:10] Myths in transformation

“Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. If you want this to be comfortable, it’s not. It’s called transformation and disruptive for a reason.”

[00:22:00] Mindset required

“You may want to just push the easy button […] But transformation require a huge amount of change.”

[00:25:40] Companies that failed 

[00:27:45] Type of mentality needed

“Leadership is all about creating change. If you’re not creating change you’re not a leader, you’re a manager.”

“Movement are important because you’re about to go on a journey that is very difficult.”

[00:32:10] Chief Digital Officer – should digital transformation be owned

“CDO’s are very helpful. But another good model is when everybody is a part of it through distributed leadership. That’s the best solution.”

“The problem with a CDO is that other C-suites will brush of their responsibilities to him/her.”

“I can usually tell if innovation or transformation is happening. That’s when people look really distressed.”

[00:37:00] Moving away from old thinking

‘You can work from anywhere and have a highly distributed team. However, it is a lot of easier if everyone in the same place.”

“You have to work extra hard to get that cultural component when you’re working with a remote team. We usually get those from the soft skills of working together.”

“Shared experience are key to build your culture. Stories that you tell each other, videos that you share.”

[00:41:10] Use of technologies

[00:42:00] Why should people read Charlene’s book?

“All of us are facing disruptions in our lives. In our work, communities and societies.”

“How do you live in a world of chaos and flux?”

[00:44:35] Outro HelloMasters


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