Anyone who reads my blogs or attends my speeches at business conferences knows my passion for exponential thinking. Exponential technologies represent the future prosperity and wellbeing of the world we share. And exponential organizations will be the catalysts and champions of these incredible boons. Sometimes, however, it’s not easy to push past the present and gaze into the possibilities of tomorrow. This was evident last week when an industry association posed an important question about the nature of an exponential organization: “What is it and why does my company want to be one?” Our world is about to experience radical transformations through digital advances that will alter the dynamics of how we live and work. As our lifespans, opportunities and global economies expand, we will need to rethink the way we acquire and hire talent. So let’s explore the concept and look at how business leaders can position their companies to achieve exponential growth, while remaining competitive in a world of accelerating technological milestones.
The Need for Exponential Thinking and Organizations
If you look at the march of innovation from the printing press to the space race, critical milestones crop up every century or so. Then came the advent of the microprocessor. Progress exploded exponentially, with major advances materializing every year. Moore’s Law, in science and in business, continues to dictate innovation. This is a key lesson I learned while overcoming the economic crisis of 2008. Strength of character and fortitude alone would not steer a smooth course through such turbulence. We had to start thinking exponentially and doubling our “computing power” every year the way pioneers like Google, Apple, and Microsoft have.
Disruptive and rapidly evolving technologies are threatening the competitive edge and growth of traditional businesses. Nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies from 1955 no longer appear on the list. In the next decade, according to research from the John M. Olin School of Business, 40 percent of today’s Fortune 500 firms will no longer exist.
Digital advances are accelerating at an unstoppable pace, and they’re transforming the world through intelligent sensors, machine learning, robotics, synthetic biology and 3D printing. Their focus is abundance -- in commerce, transportation, water, food, housing, medicine and more. The proliferation of technology, shifting business environments, and globalization have necessitated the demand for less rigid, more dynamic business models. We can no longer view resources and assets as fixed. That includes talent. Pioneering business leaders are replacing hierarchical controls with lean, elastic and agile processes -- even in the realm of talent acquisition and workforce management. It’s no wonder that longstanding institutions are borrowing from the playbooks of startups.
Yet no matter what happens -- how the business landscape shifts or how technology discovers ways to improve the quality of life globally -- new opportunities will arise for people. Modern HR leaders will help drive these change initiatives as contributing partners in an organization’s strategic planning and innovation efforts. Their relationships with executives will move from transactional to strategic partnerships. They will be instrumental in facilitating the development and communication of the organization’s core values, culture, vision, mission and behaviors. And they will need to create processes to address new human capital and resource needs.
To add another layer of perspective, consider this quote from a must-read report by Singularity University:
We’re living in a world where the devices in our pockets have more information, power, and creative capacity than the supercomputers that put a man on the moon. Your smartphone is 120 million times faster than all of NASA’s Apollo mission computers. To put it another way, a child with a smartphone today has access to more information than the President of the United States did a mere 15 years ago….
The only options on the table are to either disrupt yourself or be disrupted by your competition. Which will you choose? If you choose the former, do you know how to proceed?
Understanding Exponential Thinking
Despite the human capacity for imagination, creativity and abstract thought, our evolution over the past 250,000 years has been relatively straightforward. By that, I mean it’s occurred in a linear progression. During the last 50 years, however, we’ve seen digital technologies double in power every 18 to 24 months. Our brains, Singularity University asserts, haven’t kept pace with technology.
The Roadmap to Exponential Thinking
As part of its educational approach, Singularity University developed a “6Ds framework” to help contextualize the opportunities and ideas behind exponential organizations.
- Digitization. The more we can automate processes, the more we can learn and act upon the data. Once a product or service becomes digitized, it lives in the world of information science, where we can manage it more effectively through computers.
- Deception. Exponential growth sounds massive and explosive, yet it’s not always easy to detect. The devil is in the details. In the early stages of product development, for instance, change may seem imperceptible. A 0.1 to 0.2 advance still appears as a 0 to most. However, it’s critical to concentrate on the percentage of change. Because in this regard, the figure doubled -- meaning it grew exponentially in its next iteration.
- Disruption. When we talk about a disruptive technology or business model, we’re not describing a solution that hinders or stops industry growth. We’re defining an enhancement so cost and operationally effective that it outperforms past standards, renders them obsolete and creates a new paradigm.
- Dematerialism. Exponential technologies don’t displace or eliminate material objects, they replace them with smaller, more portable ones. Consider cameras. Back in the day, cameras were fairly large devices that had to be carried in separate bags, set up on tripods, etc. Today, they’re built into our phones, which we store easily in our pockets. In an organizational sense, exponential thinking accomplishes the same by miniaturizing large characteristics, such as physical office space, sprawling full-time staffs, equipment, overhead and more.
- Demonetization. “Through the dematerialism process,” Singularity University observes, “we can scale these apps and essentially demonetize them, since the cost of duplicating and distributing software is essentially zero.” In the staffing industry, we’re achieving the same ends through cloud-based recruitment and HR systems -- many with mobile apps now -- rather than unwieldy server-side software and hardware. My company is going a step further by tapping into the Human Cloud to create a crowd-based network of independent recruiters to exponentially expand our hiring abilities for clients, while dematerializing the process.
- Democratization. In times past, certain products, services and information were reserved for a privileged few who could afford them. Today, the Internet has empowered anyone with connected device to access the same platforms and communications capabilities, independent of wealth. This is another vital component of Crowdstaffing. Our universal Talent Acquisition Platform allows recruiters, candidates and clients to interact in a hiring ecosystem without barriers to entry or reach.
Forming an Exponential Mindset
Now that we have a better grasp on what exponentials are, we can focus on forming an exponential mindset to lead future growth.
Emphasize Abundance Instead of Scarcity
“Technology is creating a world of abundance in almost every major arena, including energy, knowledge, transportation, computation, access to education, and access to healthcare,” Singularity University points out. The world is migrating toward plenty rather than scarcity, and technology is making this possible. Desalinization devices can deliver potable water to arid regions. Three-dimensional printing is already capable of creating rudimentary foodstuffs. As I wrote last week, virtual reality is infusing itself into every aspect of business for optimized cost and operational efficiencies.
Artificial intelligence (AI), is also rapidly making inroads with human resources. We’re seeing a surge in developers launching chatbots, akin to Amazon’s Alexa, that facilitate informed decision-making for recruiters and talent. Virtual communication and augmented reality tools allow us to create unique learning environments, onboarding experiences, recruitment marketing enhancements and skills development programs. Big Data has changed the way we make hiring decisions. Embracing the promise of open, exponential technologies is the future of talent acquisition.
Scarcity is a mindset that stifles this innovation. The same attitude holds true in staffing, where we constantly lament the shortage of skills or war for talent. The reality is that exceptional candidates are everywhere. The closed platforms and business models we deploy are hindering the search. Singularity University acknowledges this: “Leaders also know that scarcity-minded, closed business models ultimately fail, while open platforms ultimately win.”
We can’t begin to disrupt industries and old paradigms without disrupting ourselves. Exponential leaders bring ideas to life quickly. They experiment, tolerate failure, encourage moonshot ideas, reinvent after lessons learned, and foster cultures of risk taking and creativity. As Shana Lebowitz explained in Business Insider, Google deliberately requests workers to set goals that “they know will be ridiculously hard to achieve.”
It’s part of the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) program that Laszlo Bock helped install. Basically, each Googler establishes a goal and three outcomes from attaining it. At quarter’s end, they are graded on a scale between 0 and 1. However, the expectation is not to receive a perfect 1; this would indicate that the objective was too easily reached. Google wants its talent to hit a mark somewhere between 0.6 and 0.7, which demonstrates that the workers were thinking bigger picture scenarios. That’s also the realm where the most innovative ideas take hold and flourish.
Engaging the Crowd
This to me is one of the most poignant elements in Singularity University’s advice: “Exponential executives successfully crowdsource nearly everything they need -- ideas, capital, design, software -- to grow their businesses. In our hyper-connected world of over three billion internet users, cognitive surplus can help you build products and services and drive innovation, regardless of the size of your company.”
This is key to our company’s composition. We tap into crowds of independent recruiters, each with a unique set of domain and industry expertise. We tap into crowds of candidates, thought leaders, subject matter experts and more. The crowd opens our minds to ideas and diverse perspectives we may have missed in closed systems -- all the hidden gems and diamonds in the rough. Exponential growth requires us to think outside the box in exponential terms.
We can bridge the gap between talent and technology. We can build on-demand solutions to enhance the sharing economy. We have the tools to cross that uncanny divide. Through a digital ecosystem designed for humans, we can future-proof our talent and champion a new business paradigm of exponential change.