Business growth, no matter the industry, is often expected to be linear. Success is a series of steps: you put in the time, you work hard, you make one sale and then another and another, you hire another person, and your numbers climb steadily. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say.
But in practice, step-change progress is exponential. Adoption of new technology has accelerated through the years, making growth that used to take 20 years to accrue manifest in a matter of months. It’s a matter of an industrial outlook versus a digital one—the former focusing on change that is reliable and incremental, the latter exponential and disruptive.
This chart, from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, demonstrates the difference between linear growth and exponential growth. Clearly, while slow and steady growth initially appears to be more successful, the people, companies, and government entities with an exponential growth strategy far outpace linear change.
Of course, that’s only if they make it through the “Valley of Disappointment,” when it feels like they’re investing the time and effort but not seeing measurable improvement. Especially for large organizations like governments, the time a program or initiative spends in that valley feels like high risk, or even imminent failure—which makes it likely to be on the chopping block when budget hearings come around in June. Incremental change feels like a more stable investment.
But as Mark Boncheck of the Harvard Business Review wrote: “Incremental is satisfied with 10%. Exponential is out for 10X.” That’s because the incremental mindset focuses on making something better, he posited, while the exponential mindset makes something different. Entrepreneur and author Salim Ismail similarly wrote that an exponential organization “is one whose impact (or output) is disproportionately large—at least 10 times larger—than its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies."
So how does a government agency (often grappling with tight budgets, aging infrastructure, and competing citizen and political priorities) move through modernization and to acceleration?
In many ways, we can already see the acceleration of government technology. Adoption of new tech, like moving online processes to a mobile platform, is happening faster, spurred by improved security and increased trust in hands-off tasks, and driven by forward-looking public-sector leaders. Yet looking at this e.Republic chart above from five years ago (source) and comparing it to current gov tech, there’s still a lot of progress to be made to catch up to the world of augmented reality and predictive technology citizens live in today.
That gap is partially an issue of what ExO Works called the “Corporate Immune System,” which focuses on preserving stability and controlling risk. Sometimes an organization can get into an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to new tech, thinking that if a total investment and overhaul can’t be done smoothly, it’s better not to mess with existing systems at all:
“The most important function of the corporate immune system is to protect the core activities of the organization (developing services, products, solutions, etc.) because these have been proven to help the organization to grow. If these activities are being challenged, a first reaction is resistance, which is fully understandable.” – Paul Epping
To overcome a cautious immune system and take the next two steps toward positive exponential growth, it helps to have a private-sector partner already experienced in augmented and predictive technologies. Direct Technology, for example, offers a forecasting engine that takes the data government organizations have been collecting for years and creates a measurable structure of prediction, feedback, and adjustment. This can help optimize processes and reduce cost in agriculture, energy use, healthcare, road construction, and just about any vital everyday function that impacts all levels of government. (More on public-sector use of predictive analytics here.)
Direct Technology’s Forecast Engine:
But even more importantly, exponential change begins with leaders who believe in its possibility. In our next articles, we will break down the key characteristics of exponential leadership, including tangible examples of how this mindset has effected real public-sector change and how to implement these traits in your own organization. From Salim Ismail’s Exponential Organizations, here are the six characteristics of exponential leadership:
It is understandably difficult for public entities to knowingly incur risk in initiatives that affect their constituents. However, to fulfill the mission of serving their communities, government technology must accelerate with—or even ahead of—the curve and meet the citizens where, when, and how they need it. Linear growth is now out of line. It’s time to truly embrace exponential government.
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