By Nick Davis and Charles Warnock | The following is adapted from Future Ready: A Changemaker’s Guide to Exponential Innovation

Innovation. If there were a competition for the most popular buzzword in large organizations around the world, that term may be at the head of the pack. It’s no surprise that innovation frameworks and models are the focus of so much attention. Driven by emerging technologies, globalization, and other key trends, the pace of change in our professional lives is faster than it’s ever been — and the slowest we’ll ever see. It’s no wonder organizations of all types are focused on innovation and becoming future-ready to ensure their survival and growth. 

Because we can’t know the future, it’s not surprising that we turn to what we know, and what’s worked in the past. Unfortunately, some of the tried-and-true business models developed in past decades don’t fit current conditions and future realities. Others are becoming less relevant as the speed of business continues to accelerate. How can you tell if traditional models and frameworks are future-ready? 

One way is to consider whether they apply to incremental thinking (traditional growth) or 10x thinking. Read on for more on 10x Strategy, Leadership, Innovation and Culture. One could write a whole book around these ideas, and here it is. 

Another important point is whether a traditional model is compatible with current inputs. For example, the network effect — in which increasing the number of community members or participants improves the value of your products and services — may not mean much to a traditional supply chain business, but it is a holy grail for any platform model business. 

“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” — George E.P. Box 

Digital analyst and anthropologist Brian Solis, who wrote an excellent foreword for Future Ready, states the need to embrace future-ready business models very bluntly, saying that legacy business models shackle digital transformation and strangle innovation. Solis calls this reluctance to replace legacy technologies and models “digital Darwinism.” He correctly notes that the hesitation to let go of legacy technologies and business models, is widespread, even though they require a great deal of time, labor and expense to maintain. 

This all underscores the need for today’s leaders to be brutally honest about which parts of their organization are geared to the future, and which belong in the past. Especially in large organizations, it may be painful to replace existing systems and technologies, but ultimately the pain will be greater for organizations who continue to rely on past models for future success while their competitors embrace the changes and move ahead. The future of work belongs to those who can let go of the past and embrace exponential technologies and thinking. 

From Incremental to Exponential Thinking

What will the world look like when quantum computing takes hold? That’s not something our incremental-thinking mindes can envision.

The traditional programs and frameworks we’ve created through the years are not designed to support individuals and organizations in transitioning from an incremental to an exponential mindset. That’s not to say incremental thinking is completely useless, but people and firms that can only access an incremental mindset will not thrive in an era of exponential change.

Mental models, including frameworks, help us understand the world—and in our case, to understand just how quickly the world is changing. For large and complex organizations especially, frameworks are powerful tools to get ahead and stay ahead. The Exponential Enterprise Framework is a method of predicting what may be required in an exponential future and brainstorming what shifts will be necessary to engage constructively with that future.

Future Ready Framework

Four Components of a Future-Ready Enterprise

A Future-Ready Enterprise embraces four essential components:

  • 10x Leadership
  • 10x Strategy
  • 10x Innovation
  • 10x Culture

A key component to developing insights in each of these four areas is to build future scenarios you will use to experiment and test. When you expand your thinking to include a far-off future—fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years out—where the world looks very different than it does today, you’ll start to think creatively about what opportunities you’ll encounter and what problems you will be able to solve. Your leadership team will begin to see beyond refinements and incremental improvements and develop the capabilities to bring amazing new products to market.

The future of work and the very nature of leadership is changing. The identity and culture of your organization will need to change. The Exponential Enterprise Framework can help you think through the new attributes, the new skills, the new mindsets that you need to develop to become that future leader.

Sounds very challenging, ambitious, and maybe a little scary, right?

It’s a journey that’s probably more challenging than any you or your organization have encountered. I can tell you with complete confidence that this framework, forged from hundreds of engagements and programs, has been the foundation of remarkable performance gains by some of the world’s premier organizations—and it can be for yours. Let’s take a closer look at each aspect of this framework that will enable you to build your future-focused enterprise.

10x Leadership: Mindset, Meaning, and Mission

Building an exponential enterprise involves helping leaders to develop 10x mindsets, with a sense of meaning and alignment with the core purpose of your organization. Developing an exponential mindset means learning, unlearning, and shifting how you think about the world so you can tackle problems differently. That exponential mindset is a necessary component of creating tomorrow’s leaders.

10x Leaders:

  • Use the best skills of the company’s talent, whether those skills are digital or human.
  • Partner and collaborate with wide networks to bring diverse perspectives and ideas into their organizations.
  • Learn new ways of thinking and operating while unlearning outdated models and processes.
  • Maintain a flexible, agile mindset to shift between incremental and exponential thinking.
  • Zoom their perspective into focus on current decisions and connect them to the zoomed-out big picture of the organization’s future goals.

By constantly tapping into the company’s mission and purpose, exponential leaders drive their entire teams toward a shared vision of the future.

10x Strategy: Vision, Map, and Narrative

We believe that three components are necessary to build a future-focused strategy: future vision, exponential mapping, and the articulation of an aligned future narrative.

Future vision is a muscle. You must be taking regular trips to the future in the course of your planning process to ensure you stay on course. Ask yourself:

  • Do I consider all possible implications if things happen faster or slower than expected?
  • Do I understand the market around me now and into the fast-approaching years ahead?
  • Do I grasp the implications of technology in my industry—for example, what impact will AI, blockchain, and cryptocurrency have in the future?

A 10x strategy involves mapping out several possible future scenarios and thinking through the implications each has for your business. As you map out various future narratives, you’ll begin to test your assumptions. Then you’ll be better prepared for whatever future arrives, and your future narrative will help you communicate your direction to your executive team and the community around you.

10x Innovation: Speed, Exponential Tech, and Leap

The three key components of 10x Innovation are to learn fast, leverage exponential technologies, and leap to the future.

Successful innovators are relentless and quickly learn to set up experiments that create opportunities to test ideas and take intelligent risks. With experience, we can learn that if things are not going well, we have the option to turn off the experiment or pivot.

Testing a hundred ideas provides significant learnings—and the greatest opportunity to learn how to improve our assumptions and future outcomes. From there, we constantly iterate, learn quickly, and make changes as necessary.

Leveraging exponential technologies has to be a part of innovation—not just building on exponential technologies but building with them. You have the opportunity to leverage, for instance, 3D printing as an exponential technology to help you build all kinds of new parts, tools, and solutions. 10x Innovation requires 10x leaders who can pull together teams that understand emerging and converging technologies.

The final innovation attribute is to leap. We use innovation sprints to move beyond incremental innovation and build breakthrough products and solutions. If you’re truly going to innovate, you need to leap ahead of the competition and stay there by learning, building breakthrough solutions with exponential technologies, and going to market faster than your competitors.

When the first iPhone came out, its design, features, and functionality enabled Apple to leap ahead of the rest of the smartphone industry, and it really pushed competitors to catch up. As an innovator, it’s your mission to recognize and develop these ideas that hold the potential to enable your organization to leap ahead of the competition and redefine your market.

10x Culture: Impact, Diversity, Exploration

  1. True future-ready enterprises are built on a foundation of extraordinary people and 10x Culture.

When thinking of Global Impact consider approaching it this way: capital-I Impact versus lowercase-i impact. The impact that’s measured at the individual contributor level is lowercase-i impact. In some cases, extraordinary individuals and leaders have been able to build 10x Cultures and create a remarkable impact. But in most cases, the model of a lone innovator coming up with breakthrough ideas that transform entire organizations and industries is an outdated model.

More often, capital-I Impact is a result of an organization’s culture as a whole, including team members, partners, and its entire ecosystem. A 10x Culture is one that enables a diverse group of individuals within an organization to align with a shared mission, tackle massive challenges, and achieve global impact.

At SU, we have global grand challenges, or GGCs, built into our culture. We believe that you can build remarkable businesses while making positive choices that impact the world. Our mission statement is to leverage exponential technologies to solve the world’s global grand challenges. We’ve identified twelve challenges that we think are billion-person problems. If these problems were solved, those solutions would benefit billions of people and create a fundamental shift that changes the world for good.

We believe that every organization has a role—not just an opportunity, but a responsibility to play a role—in pooling their resources and cultures toward solving these problems. That is Impact with a capital I.

Finally, a 10x Culture is one that is able to continually reinvent itself. Members of a 10x Culture are not afraid to reinvent what they do to achieve future growth and impact. They are unafraid to challenge the status quo and have the courage to push into a new direction. But first, we must create a culture where we’re allowed to do that. We must empower individuals to think about how to recognize when the old way of delivering value is no longer relevant, and how we’re going to make it better.

Practice, Not Prescription

I realize that, at first glance, this framework may appear daunting. Rather than thinking of it as a prescription—something that you swallow as fast as possible before you taste something bitter—think of it as a process to build resilience and strength. Frameworks help us to develop powerful mindsets and practice healthy habits. As you build your future vision and constantly iterate on it, you’ll gain new capabilities to ideate, experiment, and leverage emerging technologies.

Our hope here is not to provide the ultimate framework for getting future-ready and staying there, but to help you organize your activities and navigate this new paradigm. The exponential future is coming and the sooner we all find ways to understand and leverage its mind-blowing potential, the better it will be for everyone.

For more advice on building future-ready businesses, you can find Future Ready on Amazon.

Nick Davis is a Managing Partner at Reaching the Future Faster and the prior VP of Enterprise Solutions and current Faculty Chair for Corporate Innovation at Singularity University. Nick is a recognized thought leader in the innovation space who specializes in identifying exponential trends that enable enterprise organizations to deliver customer value through new and existing technology platforms. Nick is also a Venture Partner at Bold Capital, which invests in high-growth startups that leverage exponential technologies. He’s previously served as External Innovation Leader for PwC and the Director of Corporate Development for The Anderson School of Management at UCLA.