Organization Alchemy: The Organizational Change Workbook

30 September 2020

It is common to say that we live in an age of change, an age of discontinuity, and age of disruptions. The exponential change of the fast-moving digital technologies is reshaping the nature of businesses, industries, and economies on a scale never seen before. Nevertheless, what does an exponential change really look like?

Imagine someone - a “linear walker” - each of his steps covers just one meter. After five steps, he has, of course, covered five meters. Now imagine an “exponential walker” - an extraordinary person, whose first step is one meter, second step is two meters, and fourth step is four meters and so on. The second step is two meters, the third step is four meters, the fourth step is eight meters, and so on. Each stride of the “exponential walker” covers twice the distance of her last stride. After five steps, the exponential walker will have covered about 30 meters (1+2+4+8+16). She is well ahead of the linear walker, but they are still within shouting distance of one another. So what happens next?

After ten steps, the linear walker has plodded just 10 meters in all. And the exponential walker? She has covered 1,000 meters! And then? At the fifteenth step, the linear walker has covered a distance of 15 meters, while the exponential walker has trailed as far as 32,000 meters! That’s over three-quarters of the Earth’s circumference!

After 20 steps, the linear walker will be at 20 meters while the exponential walker has gone 26 times around the world - and what’s more, in her last step alone, she went 13 times around the world!

Exponential change starts innocuously. During the first five steps, the linear and exponential walkers are not very different (5 meters vs. 30 meters). However, after a few more iterations, exponential change makes itself felt. After 20 steps, the exponential walker is at 1 million meters and the linear walker at 20!

Almost everything digital scales exponentially: and of course, almost everything is (or soon will be) digital! We are on the verge of being bombarded with multiple exponential processes - from artificial intelligence, machine learning to virtual reality, the Internet of Things, to the robotics. All these technological innovations are roaring along exponentially.

The only thing we can be certain of is that the future will not be like the past. Things that we have never seen before years ago will become commonplace. Already we are accustomed to a supercomputer that fits in a pocket, with a professional-quality camera and video recorder all in one. We understand the job of social media specialists, of Instagram influencers, and we acknowledge the advent of TikTok stars.

Change management is more vital than ever before. Business-as-usual is no longer feasible. All management must be change management. Every organization in every industry needs to actively embrace change; to rethink their assumptions and business models if they are to survive in today’s exponential business environment.

Professor Ian Fenwick, Ph.D.

Director, Sasin School of Management