#117: Uncovering the AHA moment with Disruptive Business Analyst and author Charlene Li

Growing up as a Chinese-American and daughter to immigrants, Charlene Li always felt like an outlier in the homogeneous community of Detroit where she grew up. However, this early life experience did not stop Charlene from carving out her own path. Instead, it taught her how to push towards growth and embrace the uncomfortable.

Her strong growth mindset has led her to opportunities with Forrester Research and later, starting her own analyst firm, Altimeter.

In this episode, Charlene Li shares how she has spent the last 20 years helping leaders and organizations thrive through a disruptive mindset, servant leadership, and by embracing change always but especially during changing or challenging times.


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  • Charlene Li was born and raised in Detroit where she was surrounded by people who were mostly of Italian, Irish, and Polish descent. Because of this, she always felt like she did not belong within her community, and so made every effort to find her tribe and her own voice.
  • However, feeling like a misfit did not become a handicap for Charlene. Instead, it taught her how to get comfortable outside of her comfort zone.
  • Growing up as a fourth-generation 7th Day Adventist, Charlene learned early on about the value of service.
  • After going to business school, Charlene went on to work in a newspaper company after learning about the ‘Internet’. She foresaw how the Internet could possibly change the way we distribute content and how it can impact the future, and so she pursued a career in the publishing industry.
  • Charlene would later join Forrester, where she worked as a Senior Analyst, and eventually, as a Principal Analyst. After 10 years, Charlene left the company to support her eldest child who was diagnosed with dyslexia. During that time, Charlene decided to become a freelance analyst and started her own company, Altimeter.
  • Charlene just finished writing her first book, Groundswell, when two months later, the 2008 recession hit.  As a result of the suddenly changing times, Altimeter experienced meteoric success as one of the most trusted analyst firms for their transparency and credibility, and for being the first to give insights about using social media — and the internet in general — for promoting people’s businesses.
  • Over the years, Charlene has garnered great insights on leadership, organizational culture, and gaining your audience’s trust, and she shares it with us in this episode.
  • Charlene also talks about servant leadership, the importance of scenario planning, and how you can also become a disruptive organization.

Episode Quotes:

“I always believed that where there’s disruption, there’s opportunity.”

“Social media represented a groundswell of people and you couldn’t hold it back.”

“It was just so hard [back then] to make people understand that customers have a voice.”

“The power of sharing in social media is that it builds trust, honesty, and making connections. Powerful “followership” to me is also being willing to be bi-directional in terms of your learning and the power dynamics.” – Lisa

“If leadership is about how you show up, then followership is about what kind of relationship you’re going to have with the people who decided to follow you. Are you going to treat them like sheep, or are you going to treat them like partners?” – Charlene

“The best leaders listen with their heart. They practice empathy and have great humility to bring people in.” 

“I don’t know what the future is. I don’t tell them what the future is. But I can help them see what that future looks like.” 

Life Lessons

  1. Be Uncomfortable. You grow when you’re stretching outside of your comfort zone so look for opportunities to be outside of your comfort zone every single day. 
  2. Focus on Purpose and Service. How will you serve? We were put on this earth to create value so be a contributing member of society. Ask how you can make a difference.
  3. Be genuinely curious about other people. Slow down and take time to express interest in those you come in contact with. Appreciate and be grateful for the people around you. 

Mentioned in This Episode

Connect with Charlene Li on LinkedIn, Website, YouTube, and Quantum Networks

Connect with Lisa



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