In my latest post on Harvard Business Review, I argue that you need an exponential mindset to succeed at a digital initiative, but the expectations of incremental progress can sabotage the strategy before it has a chance to take hold.
I first saw this in my workshops. We would be about a third of the way through the day, and the client executive would start to squirm. It didn’t matter if I was building a strategic narrative, designing a brand orbit, or creating cultural doctrine. They would say something that translated to “So when are we going to get something done?”
The premise of my work is that a shift in thinking must precede a shift in doing. And that if you take the time to update and align people’s mental models, you can move with remarkable speed and cohesion. At the end of each workshop, the same clients would inevitably remark that they couldn’t believe how much we got done in such a short period of time.
That’s when the epiphany came. I realized that I was operating on an exponential curve and they were thinking linearly. I knew that most of the results would happen in a short amount of time at the end of the day, once we had everything in place. Meanwhile, with an incremental or linear mindset, people assumed that if X% of the time had passed, we should be X% of the way towards our destination.
At the next workshop, I drew the following diagram right up front, and warned everyone that somewhere in the middle they would start to get nervous that we weren’t making enough progress. I assured them to relax and trust the process. Once again it proved my premise. With this new mental model, we were able to not only move quickly, but be more relaxed as we went.
After the workshop, I realized that this gap between the incremental and exponential applied in all sorts of areas, particularly in digital initiatives where you are building a network effect. The HBR article outlines the ways in which the two mindsets interact, and the ways in which the incremental mindset can pull you off your growth strategy.
I look forward to hearing how these two mindsets show up in your work, and how to keep an exponential mindset in the midst of an incremental culture.