I stepped out of the Uber car, excited about my upcoming meeting with John, the CEO of a large multibillion-dollar company, a leader in its industry. I walked through the revolving doors to the reception area. The receptionist chatted away behind her desk with a few colleagues before noticing me. She asked for my name and who I was seeing, and she instructed me to take a seat before returning to her conversation.
After about fifteen minutes, John’s assistant, Joanne, arrived to welcome me up to his office. As we walked the floor, I noticed that the staff looked bored. The desktops were lined with old square PC screens. I spotted a crusty old blackboard in the corner. It was blank. Outside the CEO’s office was a big copy machine. Everything looked old school.
Joanne showed me into the meeting room. It was cold. There was no screen in the room, no camera—just an old push-button phone. I leafed through the dated company magazines splashed out on a wooden conference table. No mention of anything to do with technology. I wondered whether the company had any idea what was about to hit them.
John walked into the room, and we exchanged pleasantries. Finally, I addressed the issue at hand.
“You know, John, I have to say, things feel pretty business as usual around here.”
John frowned. “What do you mean, ‘business as usual’?”
“I mean, everything feels slow. It feels old. No sense of urgency. I even thought I saw a fax machine in the corner. Seriously—where is the tech?”
“Paul, we’re not a tech company, and I don’t think we’re any slower than most other companies out there—certainly not our competitors.”
“Well, you’re possibly right about that.”
“We’re doing some really super things in this company.”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you are. But, from what I can see, it’s still business as usual.”
John crossed his arms. “So what if it’s business as usual? What’s wrong with it?”
This was the hard part. “Well,” I said, “I know you’ll probably disagree with me on this, but business as usual is over.”
“What do you mean, ‘over’?”
“I mean it’s over. Finished. Done.”
There was a pause.
“And replaced by what, exactly?”
“From now on, whether we like it or not, it’s business as exponential.”
John snorted. “Business as what? What are you talking about?”
“John,” I said slowly, “would you agree that the world today is a little different from when you were twelve years old, using a rotary phone to call your friends and a typewriter to type your book reports?”
“Sure, it was different. A lot of things were different then. My father used to smoke in movie theatres and on planes. No one wore seat belts. You could even drive drunk. So what?”
“OK, well, now things are about to get really different. Like blow-your-mind different.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean we already depend more on data and technology today than we realize. We depend on them completely. If you doubt it, just try to spend one day without doing one thing that uses the internet. I bet you can’t do it. Even if you’re fly fishing in Scotland.”
“Yes . . . I suppose you’re right about that one.”
“Computation over the past fifty or sixty years has utterly transformed our species. How we live as humans today actually has little to do with what our ancestors did only a few hundred years ago. Apart from love”—I grinned—“technology has become the biggest force in the universe—it’s broad and deep; it’s everywhere. It touches everything we touch and everything we don’t touch.”
“OK, I get that, but why do you say ‘exponential’?”
“Because it’s all speeding up, not slowing down. The force of technology is accelerating like a hurricane, gaining strength and momentum as it nears the shore. Only there’s no landfall in sight; this monster force of tech knows no limits.”
“OK, interesting. But how does all that affect us? We’re not a tech company.”
“It affects you because it affects everything. It affects everything your company does. From your raw materials and supply to your product design to your production to your logistics to distribution, all the way through to the end consumer. Exponentially accelerating technology literally affects every line item of your entire P&L.”
“I’m not sure I buy that.”
“Think about it. Everything about the way we create, buy, eat, drink, shop, talk, hear, see, wear, feel, sleep—you name it—is being deeply affected by technology. Which means every business is being deeply affected by technology. Even yours.”
“And so that’s why it’s no longer business as usual? Because what used to work doesn’t work anymore?”
“Exactly. From now on, it’s business as exponential.”
John raised an eyebrow. “And you, I take it, have ideas regarding how we can adapt our business to this so-called ‘business as exponential’ world?”
“Absolutely.” I grinned. “Every company, if it wants to and if it has the right mindset, can adapt to this new world. Every company can accelerate, even ‘exponentialize’ its market value. You’ve been stalled at about a two-billion-dollar market cap for the last three or four years. How does that feel?”
“Well, it’s a bit frustrating, if I’m honest.”
“What if I told you that you could get that to ten billion in three years?”
“I’d ask you to prove it’s possible.”
“I will—but I’ll tell you one thing: you can’t do it with what you have going on here.”
“Because here, right now, it’s business as usual. To grow exponentially, you first need to embrace the idea that business today is exponential.”