May 2, 2024

Knowledge Nuggets: Exponential Organizations

May 2, 2024

Knowledge Nuggets: Exponential Organizations

Business Strategy, Ashton Bishop, Knowledge Nuggets

Exponential Organisations


In this Special Interview, Step Change CEO Ashton Bishop picks the brain of Futurist and best-selling author of Exponential Organizations and Exponential Transformation – required reading at the world's top organizations – Salim Ismail.

Hear them discuss:

  • The characteristics of successful new business models
  • How organisations are changing in order to adapt
  • The economic shift from selling scarcity to businesses based on abundance
  • How can organisations make money in a demonetised, digitalised world
  • Innovation at the edge - the way to disrupt the industry

Watch the entire interview below:


EXCLUSIVE BONUS: Unlock everything you need to know about the new "Exponential Organizations 2.0" — with insights from author Salim Ismail himself and what they could mean for your business.

Neither size nor depth, nor scale can guarantee the continuity of businesses for tomorrow. We therefore ask the question, what can organisations do to be more future-ready? In this week’s Knowledge Nuggets, a special guest will help you better understand the premise in the book Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail.

Organisations that are able to learn and take action have the best competitive advantage. They are acknowledged as learning organisations, evolving at a faster rate than their competitors.

Data: Only 10% of CEOs believe their company’s leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact. (McKinsey)

What’s the step change: Learn how to build an organisation that is scalable, fast-moving, and smart for a better chance of success.


Exponential Organization-cta


So what is an exponential organisation?

An Exponential Organisation (ExO) is one whose impact (or output) is disproportionately large— at least 10x larger— compared to its peers because of the use of new organisational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. Exponential Organisations are built upon information technologies that take what was once physical in nature and dematerialise it into the digital, on-demand world.

Exponential organisations are the future of business. If your company is to survive, you must adapt ExO thinking and practices. So whether you're founding a start-up or transforming an existing organisation, outline a clear massive transformative purpose, get a flexible team and don't rely on linear planning. Expect the unexpected and always rely on your creativity!

The real, fundamental question of our exponential age is: What else can be information-enabled? The key outcome when you access resources and information-enable them is that your marginal costs drop to zero.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has studied this phenomenon for thirty years, makes four signature observations:

  1.  Law of Accelerating Returns (LOAR). Shows that doubling patterns in computation extend all the way back to 1900.
  2. The driver fuelling this phenomenon is information. Once any domain, discipline, technology or industry becomes information- enabled and powered by information flows, its price/performance begins doubling approximately annually.
  3. Once that doubling pattern starts, it doesn’t stop. We use current computers to design faster computers.
  4. Several key technologies today are now information-enabled and following the same trajectory. 

These technologies include:

    • artificial intelligence (AI)
    • robotics
    • biotech and bioinformatics
    • medicine
    • neuroscience
    • data science
    • 3D printing
    • nanotechnology
    • aspects of energy

Becoming an ExO is more than just understanding technology. It’s a whole new way of thinking.

The most important asset for an ExO is information. Customer and market data have to be stored and analyzed. This does require experimentation and flexibility. Many ExOs manage data automatically with the help of technological innovations.

Linear organisations are dependent on having assets and a large number of employees. ExOs have few employees and few assets giving greater flexibility.


Massive Transformative Purpose

While not all ExOs share the same characteristics, any organisation hoping to become an ExO needs to have a massive transformative purpose (MTP).

An MTP charts an ExO's aspirations. It outlines an organisation's higher purpose, showing what it stands for.

massive transformation purpose


Every ExO shares five external characteristics: SCALE

  • Staff on demand Often ExOs maintain a small, permanent workforce that's diverse, creative and flexible, while hiring contractors when needed.
  • Community and crowd Maintaining a community and a crowd both lower the costs and risks of doing business.
  • Algorithm Learn from Google and how they became the world's leading search engine through algorithms.
  • Leveraged assets It isn't necessary to own assets anymore — you just need access to them. While some companies still need to own some assets (like Amazon owns warehouses), if your company is information-based, the situation is different.
  • Engagement Crucial for an ExO. Networks, games, competitions and positive feedback loops are all ways of engaging people.

ExOs also share certain internal characteristics, which should support the company’s external ones: IDEAS

  • Interfaces Connect the SCALE externalities — such as your community — with the company’s internal workings. ExOs need interfaces to manage work and projects and send them into the world. 
  • Dashboards These allow people in an organisation to access data in real time. 
  • Experimentation The biggest risk for an ExO is not taking any risks, so ExOs experiment in order to succeed.
  • Autonomy The ideal ExO employee is comfortable with autonomy. 
  • Social Social technologies keep communication channels open. More communication allows for greater transparency, and importantly, this keeps the organisation connected to its massive transformative purpose.


Implications of Exponential Organisations: The 6 Ds

  1. Digitised Information accelerates everything. Huge improvements in information storage and processing technologies have accelerated the speed at which companies can do business.
  2. Deceptive Beware of the “expert”. History shows that the best inventions or solutions rarely come from the experts; they almost always come from outsiders.
  3. Disruptive Disruption and unpredictability are also the new norms. It's no longer practical to plan too far ahead.
  4. Dematerialised Death to the five-year plan. The future is changing so quickly that any forward look is likely to produce false scenarios, so much so that today’s five-year plans have a high probability of giving the wrong advice. Another change is that it's now rather advantageous for a company to be small. Small teams are more flexible, can take more risks and can be more specialised. 
  5. Demonetised It's now possible for a business to function with virtually no marketing or sales costs. 
  6. Democratised Trust beats control and open beats closed. Trust your employees to manage themselves if you want to maximise their creativity. 

Below are some business models behind the best Billion-Dollar Unicorns

business model behind the best billion unicorn

Recommended reading: The Business Models Behind the Best Billion-Dollar Unicorns 



The Five Key Takeaways from Exponential Organisations

  1. The landscape is shifting from linear to exponential change which amplifies the rate of how change in one category affects the others. Focus for exponential change is on information-enabled technology
  2. Starting an ExO or creating one needs massive transformational purpose (MTP).
  3. Successful ExOs share the following external and internal core attributes:

    External: SCALE

    Staff on demand a small but aligned and flexible workforce

    Community and crowds a pool of collaborators and supporters

    Algorithms organisation and automation of data

    Leveraged assets owning few but meaningful assets

    Engagement information enabled loyalty

    Internal: IDEAS

    Interface automation and connection between an ExO’s internal and external processes

    Dashboards tracking of key business and employee metrics

    Experimentation taking calculated risks and reimagining value

    Autonomy a self organising team and structure

    Social using digital tools to create a more engaged culture
  4. Embrace a new way of thinking by reshaping your organisation’s culture and objectives.
  5. Implement the four core ExO executions — transform leadership, partner/acquire/invest in other ExOs, shift your core, and use as much data as possible.

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