Disruption in the Digital Age with Charlene Li

 

Shama TV: Episode 37

Shama sits down with Charlene Li, Author and Principal Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet Company and discuss how companies can be more disruptive in the digital era.

 

Click here for the full transcript!

Shama: Hey guys, welcome to Shama TV. We’re shooting at the Dallas Digital Summit. I have a very special guest, someone I have a lot of respect for today. It’s Charlene Li, she is an analyst with Altimeter, a profit company now. Thank you so much for joining us Charlene, I’ve been a big fan. I’ve read all your book right from the beginning. You’re such an innovator in the field of marketing. I think very few people don’t know your name who are in the marketing field but your new research is really exciting, it’s around disruption. Hopefully you can talk to us a little bit about that.

Charlene: Sure, I’ve always been interested in all the new technologies and really how does disruption happen inside of organizations and I’m fascinated by all these people who push and push and push the edge. I’m just so inspired by many of the people here who are the vanguards of innovation and disruption in the organizations but how do you systematically build disruption into an organization and organizational agility. We also do all these disruptive things, move fast, grow like crazy faster than anybody else in the industry, break things fundamentally and at the same time, still keep the lights on.

Shama: Break things but not break things.

Charlene: Right but break things or not but not destroy things. I think about it skating on the edge and it’s this balance of always pushing the edge doing a risk. Taking the risk but not falling off and the analogy I give is a gymnast doing a somersault or a hand stand on the balance beam. It looks so easy and effortless but you know they practiced so many hours and fell off that beam so many times.

Shama: Many times to get it just right.

Charlene: People often times think, we just have to be innovative. We just have to be customer eccentric and I think you actually have to be disruptive and customer obsessed. Those are two very different concepts. How do you actually orient your entire organization to do this? I think about this as, what is your to-do list as a disruptor and as a disruptive organization? It can’t just be the responsibility of a few small people. It has to be the focus of the entire organization.

Shama: I hear you talk a lot about leadership too right? That was your last book. I’m a big fan. It’s just great about digital leadership and what does that look like in this era and I’m curious forward leaders who are disrupting, are there common themes? I know it’s early days and you’re not ready to do the big reveal just yet but I’m curious if there are certain things you can share that you just have picked up on from leaders who are disruptive and do it, you know, while skating on that edge.

Charlene: Well, I wanted to write this book but I realized that I needed to do more work on the leadership part because that was a part that was missing. What I realized is that these leaders are engaged and they are engaged not just digital but also in real life and so the leaders who are able to make that transition and inspire their organization and lead them are the ones who have tremendous empathy. We talk about empathy and failures and things but they really truly want to engage with you. They are generally interested in people and how they grow and they’re not afraid to admit that they have failed. They are very human authentic. There is a common thread around across leaders is that I will follow this leader into battle because I am personally inspired by them. These new leaders for this digital era and I’m very careful, they are not digital leaders just leaders in a digital era.

Shama: Digital era right.

Charlene: They know how to scale. They know how to scale their engagement and inspire people across all these frontiers.

Shama: Do you think there is overlap between those leaders who can obviously engage right in the digital era and the disruptors?

Charlene: Absolutely because I don’t think you can move fast unless you can keep up with your customers and your customers today, move really fast.

Shama: Move really fast.

Charlene: They often times do it in digital, so how can you as a leader tell your organization to be digital if you’re not digital yourself. How can you keep up with fast moving customers and fast moving employees chasing the customers if your leaders aren’t fast moving chasing all of those things.

Shama: Right.

Charlene: The speed of information, the decision making, the ability to move people and mountains of resources. People say, “My organization is too big to turn because it is an aircraft carrier.” Have you ever seen an aircraft carrier turn? It takes 2-3 miles for it to turn but it does turn. When that captain gives the order, everybody makes that ship turn.

Shama: Right.

Charlene: Then it’s a force to contend with once it turns. These large organizations often times people think, “I can’t turn it, so I’m not even going to try.” The most disruptive organizations are the ones who did say, “I know how to turn this, I have confidence in my ability in this organization to flex, to be agile, to be disruptive on the turn of a dime, on a turn of a command.”

Shama: Do you think disruption used to be this opportunity right where if you disrupt you can be kind of ahead of the pact. You can have all these things. Now do you think it’s almost in some ways if you don’t disrupt it’s a threat?

Charlene: Absolutely.

Shama: If you’re not disrupting. You are getting left behind?

Charlene: If you, either be disrupt or disrupted.

Shama: Yeah.

Charlene: Either you go as fast as you can and faster than all of your competitors and frankly compared to every other brand that has engagement with your customers because they’re comparing you to people outside of your industry now because of the U.S.

Shama: That’s right.

Charlene: You’ve got to move faster than them and if you are going to be operating in a real time environment and everything is real time now, you have to be faster than real time to anticipate that.

Shama: How much of this is mindset and how much of this is tools?

Charlene: I think it’s actually, the first thing I think is mindset because if you don’t have the mindset the tools won’t matter and the second thing is having a customer obsession and the third thing is that organizational agility where tools are a part of that. We tend to focus so much on tools, we seem to think that’s the answer, that’s the anecdote. You have to know what problem you’re solving. You have to know what the disease is. You have to know what the symptoms are.

Shama: The diagnosis before the prescription.

Charlene: Strategy, it comes down to strategy. People say, “What’s the best X tool for me to use? And I go,”What are you trying to get done?”

Shama: I don’t know, that guy is doing it.

Charlene: That’s somebody else’s problem.

Shama: Yeah.

Charlene: I go, “If you don’t know even where you are going, you can’t be disruptive and your guiding light has to be your customers.” They won’t even necessarily tell you which is why that obsession is needed because you need to know your customers almost better than they know themselves.

Shama: Yeah. Really to be able to know what is it that’s going to be attractive to them even if they haven’t seen it yet. I think that was much of Steve Job’s philosophy right? [crosstalk 00:06:34]

Charlene: If they do market research.

Shama: Very interesting but if you ask, you know, if Forbes had said that if you ask people what they’d wanted that they would of said, “A faster horse and buggy.” They would have never said a car.

Charlene: I would never have said, “I need an iPod.” I would never have said, “I need an iPad or frankly streaming video.” I have my TV. If we don’t know what we need and want until it’s actually put up to us. I love what T-Mobile did with the uncarrier because they said, “It’s not about service and coverage and rates. It’s about transparency. It’s about you telling me what’s really going on. It’s about flexibility.”

Shama: Right.

Charlene: That’s really what I want from a telephone carrier but you don’t get to that level of understanding until you really, really dig down deep into what are the motivations and underlying emotions that a customer has.

Shama: Hopefully your research will also share with us as we move forward and maybe a book perhaps, format. Which you know sort of, how do you do that? How do you … If you are customer obsessed and you have that mindset, how do you actually translate that into digging and what those tools look like right?

Charlene: I think again, I think a customer obsession is creating a culture of it and it again, is not the responsibility of the CEO or somebody in marketing or marketing research to know who your customers are. It’s in every single persons job to do that.

Shama: To know who you serve at the end of the day?

Charlene: Right but I think the … I just came from Southwest, I was just meeting with them some great stories and they talk about all these times when somebody was under duress. They had to get to a family member who was sick or dying and you hear these stories over and over again. The gate attendant will like make sure that you get a ticket. My colleague is here and she talked about a story where she had to get to her mother, you know and desperately get to her mother. The flight got cancelled the Southwest person booked her on another flight and ran her to the other gate to make sure she got to the right gate. That’s customer obsession and that’s putting your customer first, but more than being customer centric, customer focused you’re obsessed throughout the entire organization.

Shama: Do you think that’s scalable Charlene, because that’s a big thing we hear right? Is it easy to be customer obsessed when they work for you but as you grow and grow and grow is that possible to scale that sort of culture?

Charlene: If you have an organization like Southwest Airlines, which is why I love using them versus Apples. I mean they’re crazy there in so many ways but they dedicate people to people. They have a people department, they have a culture department, they have teams of people focused on this. It is first and foremost, the number one thing that they consider themselves to be about. I think in this time and place where purpose and mission and knowing that this organization to a person cares about me. It’s not just a slogan on the wall. It’s going to be a huge differentiator and in and of itself, the fact that we think it’s so hard the disruptive thought itself.

Shama: Interesting. Well thank you so much Charlene. This is fantastic, can’t wait for your new book. We’ll share all the links to Charlene’s work here so you can check it out. Thank so much for watching, be sure to subscribe so you can get all the rest of our good content. See you soon.

 

–Episode Links–

Charlene Li’s Website

Altimeter Group

 

–Episode Tweetables–

You have to be #disruptive and customer obsessed. @Shama @charleneli Click To Tweet The most #disruptive organizations are the ones with confidence to turn on a dime. @Shama @charleneli Click To Tweet Know what problem you are solving: the diagnosis before the prescription. @Shama @charleneli Click To Tweet Your guiding light has to be your customers. Know them better than they know themselves. @Shama @charleneli Click To Tweet

 

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