Book Summary – Exponential Organizations (Salim Ismail)

Today, we’re surrounded by massive, disruptive changes. Large corporations are now being obliterated by a new breed of companies–companies like Instagram, Youtube and Airbnb, which can achieve exponential growth at a fraction of the time and cost. To survive and thrive in times of exponential change, we need to build Exponential Organizations (ExOs), i.e. organizations whose impact or output are ≥10x larger than their peers due to how they leverage accelerating technologies. In this Exponential Organizations summary, we’ll briefly introduce ExOs and their key attributes, and explain how to successfully build ExOs. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.Exponential Organizations summary_Book Summary Bundle

Understanding Exponential Organizations (ExOs)

From Linear to Exponential Growth

Moore’s Law says that the power of computation doubles every 18 months. Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns goes further to say that:
• Moore’s Law can be found in any information technology;
• The accelerated growth is triggered once something (a technology, industry etc.) becomes powered by information;
• Once the doubling starts, it doesn’t stop (because the new tech is used to build even better tech); and
• More and more technologies are now undergoing accelerated growth, including medicine, biotech, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), etc. This means higher chance of them intersecting to create even more explosive growth.

For example, the introduction of digital cameras brought the marginal cost of photo-taking down to zero. Concurrently, there were exponential changes in social media, smartphone technology, network speed, etc. When combined, these allowed digital photos to be taken, edited, stored, shared and used in countless ways that weren’t even conceivable in the analog age.

Exponential Organizations can grow so rapidly because they rely on information technologies, not physical resources. This allows them to halve their prices and/or double their performance every 1-2 years. In our full Exponential Organizations summary (get the full 18-page summary here) we’ll share more examples to explain why linear thinking is obsolete in a world of exponential change.

Exponential Organizations (ExO) Characteristics & Attributes

The authors studied 100 fastest growing startups globally over 6 years, focusing on Exponential Organizations that grew their outputs by at least 10x in 4-5 years. These included: Airbnb, GitHub, Local Motors, Quirky, Google Ventures, Valve, Tesla, and Tangerine. Each of these ExOs reached billions in valuation in <6 years. For example, Quirky can bring a product from concept to retail shelves in just 29 days (vs 253 days for an average Consumer Packaged Goods company). Airbnb reached almost $10 bil in valuation—more than Hyatt Hotels—within 6 years of its startup, even though it had no physical assets.

Digest these powerful tips in minutes with our summary & infographic!

In particular, each ExO fulfills at least 4 of 11 key attributes including:
• A Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) or a higher, aspirational purpose; and
• ≥3 of 10 key internal/external attributes that accelerated their growth.

Exponential Organizations summary_ExO attributes-characteristics

Do get more definitions, details, examples and tips about MTP, SCALE and IDEAS from our full text/ infographic/ audio summary. Specifically, the 5 External SCALE Attributes are: Staff on demand, Community & crowd, Algorithms, Leveraged assets and Engagement. The 5 Internal IDEALS Attributes are: Interfaces, Dashboards, Experimentation, Autonomy and Social technologies. These are akin to the 2 two hemispheres of the brain—the right brain focuses on creativity and growth while the left brain focuses on control and stability.

9 Dynamics Of An ExO Ecosystem

Ultimately, Exponential Organizations internalize certain philosophies that shape how they think and act. The 10+1 attributes are a manifestation of those philosophies and explain how ExOs exploit 9 key dynamics or trends in their ecosystem:
• Info-enabled acceleration.
• Demonetization.
• Disruption as the new norm.
• Beware of Experts.
• Thrash the 5-Year Plans.
• Small triumphs big.
• Rent, not own.
• Trust and openness.
• Anything is measurable and knowable.

Get the book or our complete Exponential Organizations summary (get 18-page summary here) for more details and insights into each of the 9 dynamics above.

Building Exponential Organizations (EXOS)

Starting An Exponential Organization

Any startup—be it a brand new startup or a “startup” within an existing organization—must address 3 key startup risks:
Technology risk. Costs for servers, cloud-computing, coding etc. have plummeted in the last decade. You can also plug in to many third party software using API functions. Thus, tech risks are now negligible for info-based or info-enabled businesses.
Market risk is also negligible given the range of options for A/B testing, digital marketing and even crowdfunding. Now, you can validate an idea and even sell something before you produce it.
Execution risk is the only real risk, and the authors focus on how to set up your team/organization to minimize this risk.

In our complete summary bundle, you’ll learn (i) the 12 steps (with specific tips) for building an ExO, and (ii) the additional things to look out for if you’re trying to nurture a startup within an existing enterprise.

Get more details, tips and examples in our full summary & infographic!

Transforming Mid-Market Companies

To transform an established company, you must use what you already have. This means that the approach varies with each case and there’s no fixed formula. Generally, there’re 2 prerequisites: (i) a highly adaptable culture and (ii) a visionary leader who’s fully supported by the board and senior management. Get more examples/case studies from the book / our full book summary.

ExOs for Large Organizations

In most cases, large organizations fail to transform themselves due to 3 inherent obstacles: they (i) focus inward (not outward), (ii) focus on technologies that can be leveraged with existing expertise (not converging/adjacent tech), and (iii) rely on internal (not external) innovation.

Get our complete Exponential Organizations summary (full book summary here) for a breakdown of 4 strategies and sub-strategies that large organizations can use to move toward ExO thinking while retaining their core businesses.

Exponential Organizations summary_ExO transition strategy

Other Details in “Exponential Organizations”

The book is packed with examples and case studies about accelerating technologies, market disruptions, Exponential Organizations and how incumbents are responding to these developments. It also includes a test for diagnosing your existing organization, and a list of trends and considerations for C-level executives (e.g. CEO, CMO, CTO, CFO).

This is a useful resource for any business leader or executive who wants to understand how build organizations that’ll thrive in face of exponential change. Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our Exponential Organizations full summary bundle for an overview of the various ideas and tips, get more resources from or the author’s website

Looking to craft your digital or tech strategy? Check out The Digital Transformation Playbook summary or learn more about disruptive technology in The Innovator’s Dilemma summary!

Download free summaries_banner

Build exponential organizations that can thrive in times of massive, disruptive change!

Click here to download the Exponential Organizations summary & infographic Click here to order the book online Click here for more resources and free tips!


Leave a Reply