Book Review: "Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)"

Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail, Michael S. Malone and Yuri Van Geest contains lots of useful information about how to give your organisation a chance of survival (be it a new one or an existing one of any size). It was repetitive at times and at points it felt like a Singularity University sales pitch but there was sufficient useful content for me to deem it a worthy read.

My key takeaways:
  • "Once any domain, discipline, technology or industry becomes information-enabled and powered by information flows, its price/performance begins doubling approximately annually." Ray Kurzweil
  • Rather than owning assets or workforces and incrementally seeing a return on those assets, Exponential Organisations (ExOs) leverage external resources (people, systems, machines etc.) to achieve their objectives. An exception to this is for scarce resources and assets.
    • Maintaining a small core allows significant flexibility. 
    • It also brings in fresh perspectives and expertise.
  • Enlist customers and leverage offline and online communities in everything from product design to application development.
  • There are common traits that have been identified across ExOs. They include a Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP), as well as ten other attributes that reflect the internal mechanisms and externalities they're leveraging to achieve exponential growth. The book delves into each of these and provides examples of organisations that leverage each.
  • The Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) is the aspirational purpose of the organisation. Think BIG, transformative and inspirational.
  • When failure is not an option, you end up with safe, incremental innovation, with no radical breakthroughs or disruptive innovations. By integrating experimentation as a core value and adopting approaches like Lean Startup, enterprise failures (while still accepted as an inevitable part of risk) can be quick, relatively painless and insightful.
    • In addition, a corporate culture that accepts failure benefits from diminished internal politics and much less in the way of pointing fingers and "blame games" thanks to trust, transparency and openness.
  • The five-year strategic plan is an obsolete instrument. The future is changing so quickly that it is likely to produce false scenarios with a high probability of wrong advice. A one year plan is more appropriate with course correcting along the way towards the MTP.
  • A never-say-die attitude and relentless execution is key to entrepreneurial success. To a true entrepreneur, there are no impossibilities, just barriers to overcome.
  • "Startups should be hunch driven early on, and data-driven as they scale." Fred Wilson
  • Culture is a company's greatest intangible asset.
  • Four strategies for large organisations while keeping core business intact:
    1. Transform leadership - train in new technologies, methodologies, have diversity etc.
    2. Partner with, invest in or acquire ExOs.
    3. Disrupt[X] - inc targeting new fields (i.e. disrupt at the edge of the business using change agents from within the business that are highly creative, self-starting individuals who don't fit neatly in a box).
    4. Implement ExO Lite internally.
  • Six traits of ExO leaders Rob Nail
    1. Visionary Customer Advocate.
    2. Data-driven Experimentalist.
    3. Optimistic Realist.
    4. Extreme Adaptability.
    5. Radical Openness.
    6. Hyper-Confident.
  • "If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering." Jeff Bezos
  • By making data-driven, objective decisions (Experimentation), self-directed teams (Autonomy), constant shared awareness (Social) and Dashboards, teams focus on the end result rather than internal politics.


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