Steps to Exponential Growth in Enterprise Organizations

Charles Warnock
May 16, 2019
Exponential Enterprise
“There is really only one way to live in a world of speed, surprise, noise, and responsiveness, and that’s to visit the future frequently.”—Grant McCracken

We’ve all heard the axiom that the larger the ship, the more time and effort are required to change its course. That tends to be true in enterprise organizations in the process of reinventing themselves for future growth, and it’s especially true in more successful organizations. Why?Fear is a great mobilizer, and if you’re working in a traditional business and your bottom line is under attack by dozens of nimble startups, the need for reinvention becomes very clear and urgent. But if your organization has achieved steady growth and profits over time, it can be tougher to convince your board and executive team that major changes are urgently needed.Because we’re in an era of accelerating change, enterprise organizations who are not actively engaging in future planning, investing in exponential technologies and running experiments may be putting themselves at risk.

Light trails

Mapping your progress towards future growth

For example, organizations around the world are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to create business value and drive the development of breakthrough future products. Research by MIT Sloan Management Review in 2018 surveyed more than 3,000 global executives on their adoption and application of AI technologies. The clear result is that AI early adopters—organizations that are committed to understanding and deploying AI projects and building revenue-generating applications—are pulling ahead of their more circumspect counterparts. The research divided respondents into four categories:18%Pioneers: Understand, adopt, and invest in AI33%Investigators: Understand AI but have not deployed beyond pilot stages16%Experimenters: Are piloting AI projects but still learning its relevant applications34%Passives: No significant understanding or adoption of AIThe top-tier organizations represented in the 18% of respondents who invest heavily in AI are setting the stage to reap the benefits on a massive scale (and may turn out to be another example of the Pareto Principle, in which 80% of the outcomes come from 20% of participants). These industry-leading companies are increasing their investments and implementing AI for both internal efficiencies and revenue growth. The organizations that don’t fully understand AI or actively invest in AI projects will find it difficult to catch up.AI is only one example. In your industry, relevant exponential technologies may include quantum computing, blockchain, or CRISPR. It is up to each of us to identify and leverage the exponential technologies that are most impactful to our own organizations.

Six steps to foster exponential growth

Here are six steps enterprise organizations can take to foster exponential growth as they look to the future:

  1. Visit the future frequently.One truly effective technique we have seen to help large organizations forecast the future is to pressure-test your current ideas and assumptions against future scenarios. Take your current assumptions about how your company creates value and move those assumptions out 10, 20 or 30 years into the future. Do they remain relevant as you examine various future scenarios? Visiting the future enables you to bring a valuable perspective to the present and change course as necessary—and avoid the fate of passive organizations that don’t understand exponential trends, nor adopt exponential technologies.
  2. Think 10x results for your reinvention.If you think of skyrocketing growth and valuations mainly as the province of startups, consider Microsoft. Not long ago, the company was pilloried by industry watchers and end-users alike for its aging Windows and Office product lines. Recently, on the strength of diversified service offerings including Azure, Xbox, Surface, and LinkedIn, the company became the third US company to pass $1 trillion in market valuation. Moral of the story: In thinking of reinventing your organization, think exponential growth.
  3. Touch the technology.Reading up on exponential technologies such as AI, blockchain, and quantum computing is a great way to understand their potential. But there’s no substitute for running your own experiments and building your own technology capabilities. Organizations that maintain a large number of experiments and track their progress through development stages accelerate their learning and gain firsthand insights on how to monetize and scale relevant technologies.
  1. Broaden your horizons.The Three Horizons is a durable planning framework that many organizations have found helpful for future planning. Horizon 1 is often defined as a five-year phase, from the present through the end of your current product lifecycle. Horizon 2 is where your current roadmaps may end, five to 15 years from today, and includes new products, services, and business models. Horizon 3 is typically 15 years or more in the future and has the most potential, risk, and impact on long-term success. It can be very helpful to define phases to help you focus on resources in all three horizons concurrently.
  2. Benchmark organizational readiness.We are all on a journey to change and reinvent our organizations for future success. If you are struggling to benchmark your organizational readiness for change or measure your progress, you’re not alone. An organizational readiness assessment can provide a foundation to increase the success of all your future growth initiatives. Creating benchmark data and diagnostics will help you see the future more clearly and provide valuable data and insights to inform your mission-critical decisions. You’ll be able to measure, track, and develop your organizational capabilities to innovate.
  3. Leverage uncommon partners.Because technology is accelerating and new ventures are gaining scale more quickly than ever, it can be difficult to identify your competitors. It’s sometimes not clear whether emerging companies are friend or foe, or even potential partners. Powerful solutions frequently emerge when uncommon partners unite. For that reason, it’s critical to reach outside your current organization for ideas and perspectives that prompt you to think and react in a different way. In addition to gaining a broader perspective, you may find the partner, founders, or technologies that accelerate your organization’s trajectory toward the future.
"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about."—Margaret J. Wheatley
SU Community

Leverage the strength of a community

Every organization is facing the same headwinds in preparing to face a future of accelerating change. Your partners, peers, and competitors are all in the same struggle to unlock the opportunities and technologies that will help you achieve future scale more rapidly. First-mover companies built on platforms of exponential technologies may gain adoption and scale so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to catch up.It’s becoming clear that speed wins, and lack of speed kills innovation—and endangers future survival. One step you can take to move faster is to connect with the SU global community, an innovation ecosystem with nearly 70,000 members from 61 countries. It’s free to join and offers a unique opportunity to share your own experiences and gain knowledge from the learnings and experiences of other community members. You can find and be found by a fascinating array of people with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and perhaps there is a future “uncommon partnership” waiting for you!