value of exponential technology

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How to get the value of exponential technology

Tap into worker passion and scale from the edge

The exponential growth of technology and internet is changing all industries. We have moved from a push-world to a world with pull-based business models. The trouble with organisational change is that – in general – you need to confront and change the core of the business, which will cause anxiety within the organisation. The antibodies in the core are powerful and will crush any attempt to change. So what can you do to avoid this? The answers are tapping into worker passion and scaling from the edge.

John Hagel III and Wassili Bertoen - 20 November 2014

Tapping into worker passion

The good news is: there are already people within your organisation with the right attitude and competencies. Talented people who are passionate about their work and who are not afraid of change, but willing to explore the possibilities – the so-called explorers [HvdW1] . The bad news is: a recent Deloitte survey reveals that explorers are scarce. Only 11% of America’s workforce possess the proper attributes. In order to respond to exponential growth and disruption, you need many more of these explorers. So who are they and what drives them?

Commitment to domain, questing, and connecting
Explorers are able to realize their full potential in their chosen domain and contribute more value to the business. They are committed to continually achieving higher levels of performance. Employee engagement is no longer enough – in this changing world you need worker passion, defined by three attributes: commitment to domain, questing, and connecting. These attributes lead to behavior that drives sustained performance improvement. It helps people to integrate knowledge from professional networks and lessons from difficult challenges into a disciplined commitment toward making an increasing longer-term impact.

Unlocking the passion of the explorer in your workforce
Age, firm size, type of work, and educational attainment do not determine who is a passionate worker and who is not. So what are relevant factors? How can businesses create environments that unlock the potential of their employees? What policies, practices and actions impact the attributes of passion?

The work environment characteristics that can cultivate passion in workers are:

  1. Workers are encouraged to work cross-functionally (40% increase in likelihood to be an explorer).
  2. Workers are encouraged to work on projects they are interested in, even on those outside of their responsibilities (34% increase).
  3. Workers are encouraged to connect with others in their industry (17% increase).
  4. The company often engages with customers to innovate new product and service ideas (14% increase).

Attributes of worker passion

Commitment to domain.
 A long-term commitment, the desire to have a lasting and increasing impact on a particular domain and a desire to participate in that domain for the foreseeable future. This helps explorers to focus on where they can make the most impact.

Questing. 
A drive to go above and beyond one’s core responsibilities. Explorers constantly probe, test, and push boundaries to identify new opportunities and learn new skills.

Connecting. 
Seeking out others to help find solutions to challenges. This is more than just networking – explorers seek deep interactions with others in related domains to gain insights that they can bring back into their own domain.

Scaling from the edge

So far, we have discussed exponential growth, the changes that are taking place and how to adapt: ‘From manpower to digital power’, ‘From assets to flows’, ‘From scalable efficiency to scalable learning’ and ‘Passionate talent’. If you understand these developments and pull factors, and also understand how to unlock the passion of the explorers in your workforce, your organisation is ready for the next step: Scaling from the edge.

On the edge of your current business
Successful innovation is not a matter of introducing innovation in the entire organisation. This will only attract the attention of the antibodies: people who have difficulty with change and who will oppose any plans. Neither is it a matter of placing innovation entirely outside the organisation, because there won’t be any connection with the rest of the company nor with the benefits that the organisation already possesses. Successful innovation is a matter of using these benefits – brand, relationships, customers, markets and knowledge – and being open-minded to new knowledge. Not within the heart of the organisation, not outside, but on the edge of your current business.

Start scaling from the edge
The first step is developing an inspiring vision on exponential technologies at the edge of your business and considering which of these are relevant to you and your customers. The next step is starting up a small initiative based on this inspiring vision and a scalable learning mindset. Please note that the intent should not be to pull this initiative back into the core. The core crushes even well-articulated edge initiatives. Rather than pulling the edge back into the core the alternative is ‘scaling from the edge’. This means that if you can find an edge that has the potential to scale extremely rapidly, you can actually pull more and more of the core out to the edge, to the point where the new edge becomes the core of the business – over time. New stakeholders and new innovators – e.g. other companies – will want to join you, as well as the explorers within your organisation. This is what happened to Fuji when they embraced digital photography – while at the same time still profiting from their core business (films) at the time.

So keep exploring your edges, and keep experimenting with passion and scale when you feel the market and your key stakeholders start pulling.

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