Taking on board the attributes of Exponential Organisations (ExOs) and investing in becoming truly exponential is challenging, but it is within the reach of most companies today. As Salim Ismail explains in the book “Exponential Organizations”, becoming an ExO requires companies to first articulate their Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) and possess at least some of these 10 attributes in order to achieve ExO status.
It may of course seem like a daunting task. In large organisations in particular, doing so will likely go against the grain of the status quo, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot or should not take on board some ExO attributes. First, bear in mind the following:
- You need to find your purpose: The starting point, in any case, is to set your MTP, which clearly defines what concerns you and your company.
- You have to engage your community: We believe that an organisation’s most powerful asset is the people and their ideas. By focusing on the external attribute of Community and Crowd, you are able to build up your community and use these ‘crowds’ to help you make better decisions, faster.
- Invest in the right tool: An involved community and solid engagement are notoriously hard to implement. It involves leveraging the crowd, harnessing creativity and the overall process of generating, developing and communicating new ideas, which can be accomplished by investing in purposely designed innovation tools and platforms.
- Build up a structured innovation programme: Overall, you can strengthen a strategy of both exploring and exploiting by creating an innovation programme designed to mobilise your community, a sure-fire way to set you on your path to becoming exponential.
But how exactly is that achievable?
You can IGNITE your business transformation to become an ExO in 6 steps:
1. Identify key business challenges
In alignment with your MTP, call on the key players in your company to help you assess what your shared objectives are and establish challenges to reach them. Then, launch them to your crowd using an innovation management platform that has been developed to allow everyone to share their ideas and have their say. The simplest way to start is to pilot a programme targeting smaller communities – but which are still diverse and significant – within your company, such as selected departments or geographical locations.
Once ideas start coming in, you should favour those that pass Larry Page’s “toothbrush test”. When assessing a product, the co-founder of Google always asks one question: “Is this something you will use once or twice a day, and does it make your life better?” The trick at this stage is to get your community right and make sure they are engaged. That allows opportunities to arise and ideas of value to emerge, thus helping to build and maintain an engine of innovation.
2. Gamify innovation
For people to take part in anything, you have to make participation fun. Not only that, but they should be motivated by being rewarded for their actions. Gamification is a powerful mechanism that does both, mobilising people across the board, of all departments and demographics. It incorporates game elements in your innovation programme, including progression, social interaction and recognition, to make the process fun and engaging.
It is also important to remember that people have different participation skills (from visionary or design skills, through to finance or engineering strengths) and different profiles, with different gaming motivations and activities, all of which should be catered for and encouraged.
Within this community, both discovery skills (such as questioning, experimenting and risk-taking) and delivery skills (analysing, planning and detailed-oriented implementation, for example) are valuable to the overall process, according to academic Clayton Christensen.
3. Nurture your crowd.
Cementing community participation and engagement isn’t achieved exclusively through the platform. Social interaction is a key aspect of ongoing collaborative activity. You should communicate with people on and off the platform to ensure your workforce feels they are part of building the future of your organisation and are working collectively towards the MTP. By having a role to play in solving specific challenges, they will feel empowered and, in turn, more loyal to the organisation and ambassadors of its values and goals as a whole.
4. Ideate collaboratively
The premise of a collaborative innovation software is not only allowing people to share ideas, but also as a mechanism to mobilise crowds to work together. Through these platforms, the workforce is able to comment on, rate, vote and/or invest in other people’s ideas earning themselves points by contributing and adding value.
Some more sophisticated platforms also include mechanisms or algorithms to incite participants to choose the ideas they believe are the best and not the most popular. Thus, you get to harness their collective intelligence to find the ideas with higher potential, as well as improving them along the funnel.
5. Test new ways of doing
Many companies are risk-averse and inevitably get stuck in a rut. Embracing failure should be a part of the business process, and finding and testing new solutions is the way forward to transform your business on an ongoing basis.
Having gathered your crowd’s collective intelligence, focused on value-added activities around your innovation programme and ensured you have a budget allocated with all the key players involved, the chances of success increase accordingly.
A culture such as this, in which new cycles are set regularly and achievements and collaboration are celebrated, encourages constant experimentation, with new ideas and quick learning loops to promote quicker success.
6. Expand your community
As your programme matures and your ambition grows, you should involve more people inside and outside your company. As well as involving the elements in different departments and locations within your organisation – which provides a broader range of viewpoints, perspectives and fresh inputs –, you can also bring in stakeholders, such as suppliers, universities, labs and entrepreneurs, and even customers, through an open innovation approach to your programme.
The 6 steps represented through IGNITE lay the foundation that will help you grow and expand the ambition of your innovation programme: a flexible structure, rooted in your people’s potential, yet flexible enough to continuously experiment and adapt as you move forward and bring more people aboard your innovation challenge.
Be fast, but mostly, be more intelligent
While as an ExO, size can give you scale, speed is globally much more critical in innovation. With the world’s highest-performing companies taking risks and striving for first-mover advantage to maintain their competitive edge, it is vital to start fast and swiftly when it comes to launching your innovation programme and mindset; you should spark the innovation flame in your company and your people as quickly as possible.
Unlike traditional organisations, ExOs tend to prefer evolutionary systems over static objects and resources and resilience over strength, thus calling for structured innovation to learn how to test, fail and ultimately succeed, fast.
The great advantage of innovation management software is that they enable you to easily collect and assess thousands of ideas in an efficient and flexible manner, allowing you to find (and increasing your chances of doing so) the ones with the highest potential.
Some of these ideas will be more easily implemented, while others may require project plan development before coming to fruition. As you expand your programme, launching continuous challenge cycles and reinforcing your MTP, it is also worth setting up multidisciplinary teams to work with business canvas models to develop more specific business models and projects as an integral part of your programme, ensuring a complete journey from ideation through to implementation.
By encouraging everyone to jump in, share their ideas and have a say in building the solutions of others, your exponential programme can:
- Mobilise multi-disciplinary teams
- Decentralise authority
- Promote transparency
- Build a culture of collaborative innovation
- Flatten your organisation
- Offer relevant performance metrics
Ignite your business to become exponential
With an innovation management interface in place, you are actually incorporating external attributes of MTP, such as Dashboards, Experimentation, Social interactions and incentives and Autonomy, and internal attributes, like Community and Crowd and Engagement.
While these elements are all part of an exponential transformation, the most crucial aspect revolves around creating a mindset and culture of innovation. People must feel like a part of your programme and that they play a vital role in achieving your organisation’s goals. To do so, they should be encouraged to become more open to experimentation and prone to change. The true evolution in ExOs comes from moving from business efficiency to business intelligence.
In short, becoming an exponential organisation is not about being efficient. It is about being intelligent. Be quick, of course, but more importantly, you should be smarter in how you innovate and truly transform your organisation to be better, faster and cheaper than the others.
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