Fostering a disruptive culture

Fostering a disruptive culture

As we approach the end of January, many business leaders are still trying to get the hang of the disruptive new year. Perhaps the greatest challenge they face today is how to remain competitive amid constant turbulence and disruption.

Given these rapid changes, we can hardly keep up with the pace, let alone get ahead of it. Today, any company that isn’t constantly adjusting to changing contexts is putting itself at risk. In fact, if we were to look at successful dominant businesses in the market, they all have one thing in common — and size has nothing to do with it. This common characteristic is their belief in the importance of organisational culture and its ability to drive business success.

In his memoir Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, Louis Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM wrote: “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game. In the end, an organisation is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.

“Vision, strategy, marketing, financial management — any management system, in fact — can set you on the right path and carry you for a while. But no enterprise — whether in business, government, education, healthcare, or any area of human endeavour — will succeed over the long haul if those elements aren’t part of its DNA.”

From here, the link between the success of an organisation and the importance of culture is apparent. It’s clear that the missing piece to the puzzle is having the right mindset and culture. Hence, having an effective culture embedded in the hearts of employees can drive a team towards a common goal, motivate people to work hard, and act as a fuel that fires endless innovation. You may ask: is our organisational culture giving us the ability to do all those things?

I’m not saying that your existing culture is bad as it may help you achieve your goals, but only up to a point. This is because in a fast-changing business environment, you have to think and act quickly in order to respond to those changes effectively. Simply put, this is not an “either or” idea, but it’s “both”.

As I’ve said many times before, we’re in a disruptive era. Sooner rather than later, once disruptive innovations begin to dominate an industry, firms are required to shake off their old ways of doing things and embrace new, never-done-before ways of doing things instead. In the process, they will transform themselves.

Perhaps it’s time we create a culture that fosters disruption, before we become disrupted. Here’s a simple guide on how your organisational culture can foster a disruptive culture:

First, start with yourself. A disruptive mindset must begin at the top of the organisation and work its way down. It has to be developed from the hearts and minds of the founder or organisational leaders. This is because initially, you can’t arbitrarily define a culture for a business. And most importantly, disruptive culture begins with accepting that the world has really changed.

Once you have disrupted yourself, you must be eager to embrace challenges, and do things you’ve never done before. Put these two together they will spark a domino effect within an organisation. As you disrupt yourself, it triggers others within the organisation to disrupt as well. And eventually it fosters a never-ending disruptive culture.

Unsurprisingly, an organisation that focuses on culture sees a huge payoff, particularly from a culture that fosters disruption. Organisations with a disruptive culture are usually able to do the following:

Collaborate: Members of an organisation can achieve shared goals through sharing ideas, working together, making mutually supportive decisions and systemically solving problems. This often brings fresh perspectives and ideas to the innovation and disruption process.

Listen: Whether it’s within or outside the organisation, more often than not, they have tremendous insights that can lead to new, disruptive innovations.

Stay open: Oftentimes, the greatest disruptive ideas originate with backroom thinkers and novices. Organisations with open minds that accept input from everyone tend to bring more new products and services to the market.

All in all, we’ve seen how quickly the business landscape is changing. Companies need to understand the importance of organisational culture and the necessity for a disruptive culture in businesses and industries. As we foster disruptive culture by starting with leaders, it will ensure great impact and challenge status quo behaviour. Then, at the end of the day, it will allow for greater collaboration by individuals who are ready to be challenged and exhilarated.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAsia Center (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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