Why Your Organization Needs Exponential Thinking

Recently, one of Google’s driverless cars was responsible for its first accident, when it hit a bus. No one was injured but the expected criticisms followed that they’re not safe. This, of course, ignores all the accidents that also occurred on that same day that were caused by human error – because those are expected – but we always have unreasonably high expectations of “the new” (which makes it easier to reject outright). And that’s probably why Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pointed out, “[T]he question here isn’t comparing the automated car against perfection, I think it’s a relative comparison to what we have now on the roads which is you and I, and our eyeballs, and our brains.”

We’re conditioned to think human judgment is better than digital responses based upon accumulated data. And we’re all still terrified of HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but really, it’s about our bias against replacing human judgment because we fear change. Unfortunately, for the resisters, change has become standard operating procedure. We’ve entered the era of what’s known as “exponential organizations,” which tech entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail coined in his book of the same name, where reputation means less than quick, easy and efficient solutions to chronic problems and almost anyone with Wi-Fi and a dream can redefine an industry in a couple of years. But the key will always be collaboration because no matter how advanced artificial intelligence becomes, it will never replace people working together to create innovation.

Why you need to go digital

If you think I’m sounding an alarm, you’re wrong. This Techcrunch article is a great primer on what exponential organizations are and how any team can benefit from adopting these principles. At its core, the exponential organizational mindset swaps the scarcity model where she who has the most physical assets wins to an abundance model where a lean operation based on shared resources can quickly adapt to industrial developments to stay relevant.

Regardless of sector, any organization can benefit from exponential thinking. First, and most importantly, exponential models can help you streamline your operations by moving key functions to crowdsourcing and identifying redundancies to create greater efficiency within the organization, freeing up time, energy and resources to focus on innovation.

The advent of shared resources also opens up Big Data to anyone. Studies, surveys and research that once required long-term planning and produced results that were likely out of date can now easily be replaced with data gathered in real time and continuously through tools such as Google Analytics or with your own proprietary app.

All this helps you better serve your customers by bringing as many people into the process as early as possible. As their feedback becomes instantaneous, you begin to create dialogues with them, gaining important information in how they use, and don’t use, your products. With analytics almost on demand and crowdsourcing sites to help you iterate faster, development cycles that once were measured in months or even years to bring your product near perfection are reduced to weeks so you can get to market faster while your early adopters function as your beta testers and, eventually, your evangelists.

This smaller window makes taking chances easier and moving past failures less painful. Perfection is no longer a goal when being “first-to-market” with a working prototype that can be quickly updated is more easily achievable.

The key is collaboration

 To paraphrase Susan Sarandon’s character in the baseball-themed movie “Bull Durham,” if you put three ants together, they can’t do much, but if you get 300 million of them, they can build a cathedral. Whereas the old, linear model rewarded guarding “company secrets” like the Ark of the Covenant, the exponential model sees using the knowledge of the crowd as a strength, both internally and externally.

A digital mindset can also be applied to how we work with one another. Big Data is the foundation but we still need the personal relationships to address the findings. Exponential organizations also revolutionize corporate cultures by flattening the hierarchies and bringing more voices into the conversation.

A great example of this from “Exponential Organizations” is Amazon’s “Institutional Yes” model, which forces management to be less risk-averse and open to change to consistently innovate and move ideas forward. The model states that all ideas brought to a manager must be met with an initial “Yes.” If a manager wants to say “No,” he or she “is required to write a two-page thesis explaining why it’s a bad idea.” From the Institutional Yes came Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing services and its most profitable division.

Sites like Github, an online open-source community, provide companies with developers without the costs of expanding your current team. By moving critical but occasional functions to an on-demand basis, teams become free to develop their own practices and generate ideas that can developed and tested quicker to gauge their feasibilities. With a smaller, but more vital, staff and fewer rote responsibilities hierarchies flatten so that each member can have an equal voice on the team.

Adopting a digital mindset won’t necessarily, or immediately, grow your company tenfold. You still need to put in the hard yards and develop your ideas. Big Data and crowdsourcing can only do so much. But these new mindsets will open new paths to how you collaborate with your customers and coworkers. And with technology iterating so quickly, and tech that was once seen as the work of science fiction, like driverless cars, becoming less expensive and more accessible, you can’t afford not to start incorporating these principles into your day-to-day operations. You just have to be willing to say, “Yes.”


This article first appeared on Keith’s Linkedin blog. To get the latest from Keith, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Image courtesy of June Yarham/Flickr.

Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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