Staying relevant in the age of disruption

Staying relevant in the age of disruption

Everyone is ready to state the obvious when they talk about change. The truth is, change is here to stay and it has been like this for a while now. What we should worry about is not change itself but the scope, scale and impact of changes that have brought about dramatic transformation.

What we face these days is not just change but what we have come to call “disruption”, and it can be seen in every business landscape. It is no longer linear and predictable; instead, it’s all about uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability.

Technology-driven disruption of entire markets and industries can happen overnight, and non-traditional competitors can appear without warning, with devastating impact.

From our world, to our climate, to our country, to technology, to consumer behaviour, to our companies and our jobs, being able to keep pace with these disruptions has become a part of our everyday life.

In this new age of disruption that we’re living in, there is no such thing as a blueprint for business success.

In a world in which ambitious new businesses come and go within weeks or even days, and once well-known and long-established companies are easily toppled by nimble startups in a matter of months, doing business as usual is a one-way ticket to irrelevance and destruction.

In my opinion, the most significant changes we have seen in this era have been in the empowering of customers and the enabling of entrepreneurs. We live in an age when customers routinely experience the incredible outcomes of superb human-centred design — and this is transforming their expectations of products and services and the businesses that provide them. They now hold every business they interact with to the highest standards of convenience, usability and affordability — the standards that they experience through technology-driven products and services.

Companies can no longer depend on conservative or one-way strategies that fail to account for this fast-changing consumer trend. Rather, business leaders are being forced to depend on new and real-time input and insights into what people want.

On the other side of the equation, we also live in a time when anyone can set up their own business with minimum investment and an opportunity to very quickly scale up globally through technology. The size, scale and history of our businesses count for nothing — indeed, they often just serve to make us look and, more importantly, feel out of touch with our customers.

So what are the implications of this new condition? What can we do to stay relevant in this disruptive market?

Having worked with many esteemed leaders, I often hear that they are both excited by the possibilities the future offers, and terrified by the consequences of not being able to move their businesses fast enough.

As a result, I habitually suggest that they be well aware that if they don’t deliver and sustain a new level of customer-centric and human-focused design, someone else will. It may even be a competitor from outside their industry, or it could be the development of a completely new business model that makes the old model obsolete and turns their assets into liabilities that drag the business down.

Essentially, meeting these new challenges requires new thinking. It requires established businesses to use the tools of the entrepreneur to reinvent themselves for a different world. One of the most impactful approaches is the concept of design thinking.

Design thinking is an approach that doesn’t use data, because no data exists about the future. Instead, it is an approach that enables us to explore, identify and define the unserved and high-value needs of our customers and then quickly develop and iterate ideas to serve them until we find the solution. And this is the thinking that is often adopted by entrepreneurs and startups.

The bottom line is that for business leaders, the adoption of design thinking will soon become crucial. It can be the solution to help your business stay agile and relevant, so that your people will constantly be thinking creatively about the products and services being offered in this disruptive era.


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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