Incremental to Exponential: How to Read Your Growth Engine’s Warning Lights

Nick Davis
Feb 18, 2019
Exponential Enterprise

Are you trying to achieve exponential growth, but stuck with incremental progress?At SU, we’ve helped hundreds of organizations chart a course from business-as-usual to future-focused. While every engagement is unique, we’ve also noticed some persistent challenges that emerge repeatedly over time.For example, it’s important to consider how you frame the challenges of the future. If your organization views innovation and the acceleration of change through a technology lens, you’re likely to seek technology-based solutions. It’s true that exponential technologies are driving the massive disruptions that are remaking entire industries. But technology alone won’t help your organization meet the challenges of our brave new world.It’s fair to say every organization is—or should be—building a growth engine or mechanism to enable themselves to reach this new future. Many organizations are disappointed in their rate of progress or failure to achieve growth beyond their core products as they try to launch new products or initiatives. In this post, I’ll share some warning lights you should check regularly to ensure your organization’s future growth engine maintains enough power to fuel your key objectives.

How to read your growth engine's warning lights


Organizational readiness assessments are useful tools to get an idea of how prepared you are for a successful transformation initiative. But they are only one tool in your growth toolbox. Often, these assessments are conducted with a technology and process focus, with little thought to your organization’s culture, mindset, and leadership.Readiness for change goes far beyond implementing current technology. It involves multiple levels and facets of an organization, including staffing, workflow, decision-making, communication, and incentives, according to University of Washington Professor Bryan Weiner. While you should know how committed your team is to large-scale change, it’s also key to know your collective ability to effect change, what Weiner calls change efficacy. An important aspect of organizational readiness is the ability to identify and address potential issues that may derail your innovation initiatives before they begin.That’s why it’s important to start with a proven innovation strategy and framework, as well as quantifiable, shared objectives to measure innovation progress. There are many unknowns in driving change in enterprise organizations, but it’s certain that you can increase your odds of success with a clear vision, mission, and shared goals.


Lack of engagement can occur both vertically and horizontally. A lack of sponsorship and support from the executive suite can put your business at serious risk for survival, as can non-engagement across business units and partners. Perhaps the most lethal innovation killer is a failure of an executive team or board to provide the necessary financial and human resources required. But beyond allocating resources, executive leadership must also foster a culture of innovation that includes permission to be bold, experiment, and make mistakes along the way.You must also actively engage corporate antibodies in the system that impede your ability to effect change and achieve future growth goals. These “antibodies” are people who resist change and innovation efforts through inaction or outright opposition. This is a common situation in successful organizations with profitable core products, where stakeholders see little value in rocking the boat. But our preference for certainty must be balanced with the need to move forward.Be prepared to educate reluctant stakeholders on exponential concepts, the accelerating pace of change, and the risks of inaction. To that end, it's crucial to build a strong future narrative and clearly communicate that narrative to all of your teams. This helps to ensure engagement throughout your organization and aligns everyone to focus on a single North Star.


A quick story: I once visited an organization whose innovation team truly exemplified the importance of speed. Their initial go-to-market cycle was about three years, from having an idea to delivering a product into a customer's hands. Seven years later, this innovation team—there were only three people on it, but they had a lot of innovation ambassadors around the firm—had compressed that cycle down to roughly 12 weeks, from ideation to customer revenue. The team had refined and improved the system to where it was a well-oiled machine that generated about 15 percent of the new revenue coming into the company. All of this was possible due to the support of three powerful change agents.The moral of the story is that speed wins, and lack of speed kills innovation—and endangers future survival. You can have perfect execution and remarkable products, but that means nothing if you’re a year late to market. First-mover companies built on platforms of exponential technologies may gain adoption and scale so quickly that it’s nearly impossible to catch up, as competitors to organizations like Google, Amazon, Airbnb, and Netflix have learned.


Companies large and small have missed the opportunity to harness exponential technologies as a competitive advantage, in many cases becoming irrelevant or replaced by more agile competitors as a result. There are two exponential technology truths that can separate the leaders from the laggards:First, understand which of these technologies—as they emerge, converge, and evolve—will have the most impact on your organization and industry. SU research indicates this is a missed opportunity at many enterprises.

SU Exponential Innovation Assessment

While 56% of survey respondents said they have a dedicated person or team responsible for tracking relevant emerging tech, business models, and startups, 44% did not. Every organization should have a system to view and track impactful technology trends and identify opportunities and challenges as they emerge. Understanding key data trends and how they’ll impact your industry will help you know how and when to take action.Second, understand the stages of exponential technology growth, and the sheer speed of that progression. For example, if blockchain is a potential disruptor in your industry, you should know which stage of development that technology is in. If you’re familiar with Peter Diamandis’ 6Ds Framework below, you may know this roadmap of rapid development helps us visualize the stages through which technology accelerates. It’s critical to know where the exponential technologies that drive your business fall along this growth curve and how they’re converging. Closely and continuously monitoring these trends can help you make better decisions, more quickly.

6Ds Exponential Framework


Are we there yet? How long until we get there?Organizational innovation programs have no end date, and no one can predict future growth with certainty. But to recap, here are some insights you should have in order to accelerate your innovation progress and sustain future growth:

  • The stages of exponential technology maturity and convergence
  • Which breakthrough technologies will shape your industry (and adjacent industries)
  • The progress of each innovation project underway in your portfolio
  • Current portfolio performance and improvement opportunities
  • Where to allocate your time and resources for the best return
  • Your overall innovation progress against industry benchmark data
  • Your portfolio’s total projected revenue impact

Build a powerful future growth engine

To get ahead and stay ahead of the exponential pace of change, your organization must develop a powerful growth engine. You also must be able to measure outcomes to improve your engine’s performance over time, and fuel that engine with appropriate leadership, strategy, and innovation practices. When you're ready to have a conversation about how you might do that partnering with SU, we're here!