Q&A: Bestselling author Charlene Li leads the charge on digital transformation

The innovator and businesswoman discusses how to take disruption from distraction to superpower

By | 2 minute read | October 17, 2019

Charlene Li is a New York Times bestselling author, a disruption guru and widely considered to be one of the most creative people in business. Her latest book, The Disruption Mindset, goes beyond innovation and focuses on developing clear strategies for disruptive growth.

What is your business + technology vision?

Charlene: Ultimately, I think technology is fantastic and necessary, but it’s nothing without the leadership to actually put it in place. The secret to successful digital transformation isn’t so much about the technology as it is about the culture and the leadership behind it.

Why is culture so important?

Charlene: Culture is the way you get things done. I boil it down to beliefs and behaviors working hand in hand. If you’re focused on the day-to-day, you’re not focused on the change and the transformation. Something has to get you out of that wonderful comfort zone where you feel confident and competent. Culture feeds into a shared, overarching vision of why you’re doing it.

What can you tell us about your new book?

Charlene: It’s really focused on what is disruption, because we talk about it so much, especially here in Silicon Valley. What does it mean? How do you do it, and how do you do it well? So many organizations are transforming and disrupting, and I wanted to make sure those stories got out.

Did you come across anything unexpected in your research?

Charlene: The most interesting belief and behavior that came from the research — what I call the flux principle — is discipline. When you think about disruptive organizations, you think everyone’s kind of doing their own thing, and great minds are off in a corner thinking great thoughts. It’s not that way at all. The people are brilliant, but a hallmark is discipline, rigor; that if we decide we’re going on this journey, we’re going to do it well.

What does “innovation that works” mean to you?

Charlene: It means an application of innovation. Innovation that’s just rooted in science and research isn’t useful. True innovation is innovation that’s applied to solve a problem. When something is truly innovative, there’s going to be significant change behind it. Whenever you have change, it’s going to be a long, tough journey. Innovation that works actually means that it’s a tough journey ahead, but the end is going to be worth it.

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