January 16, 2019 How to Act Like an Exponential Organization in 2019

In thinking about radical agency in the age of the gig economy, I get to thinking about exponential organizations — a phrase Salim Ismail, the lead author of Exponential Organizations, helped coin. An exponential organization is one whose impact or output is disproportionately large (at least 10x larger) compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage exponential technologies. Today, the gig economy is providing unprecedented access to exponential technologies, with a freelance workforce rapidly expanding on a global level.

Radical agency is its own variation on the gig economy model, giving businesses a pathway to the ninja-style skill sets we most need today. These are the high-end skills sets you don’t necessarily need in-house, 24/7 — but when you need them, you need them. Radical agency in today’s talent landscape means you don’t have to have all the talent you need internally. And in fact, you’ll have better capabilities and can more readily react to needs and tap into the skill sets you need if you effectively model yourself as an exponential organization. The key is to leverage the gig economy to get the talent and technology you need when you need it.

The 3 gig economy models you should know

The gig economy isn’t thriving simply because more and more people are opting into freelance work (or turning to freelancing when traditional opportunities are few and far between). It’s also thriving because enterprises are realizing the time savings and cost benefits of on-demand talent. There are different gig economy models that fulfill a variety of needs:


Models that focus on engaging on-demand talent to get work done are growing in popularity because the results are quality rated and controlled and the rewards go to those with the best skills (think professional sports without the agents). One example is Topcoder, the world’s largest talent network and competition-based crowdsourcing platform. On Topcoder, the most skilled people and winning work rises to the top on merit alone. You pay for outcomes, not hours, and can run concurrent work streams.

For instance, if you want to get a mobile app built, you can get certain aspects of the design, development, and QA and testing work done simultaneously. Whereas a complete mobile app could otherwise take hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead (i.e., salaries and benefits), not to mention months of work by in-house designers and developers, it can instead take weeks and cost considerably less for the finished product. It’s all done through a series of blind competitions, and the logistics are handled by an internal project manager we refer to as a copilot.

Expert network

One model that is popular today relies on the historical accomplishments of a person, which in turn qualify them to gain access to work contracts — typically micro work contracts. An expert network model (like Gerson Lehrman Group’s) matches companies with a vetted pool of domain experts. This can take on a number of forms: site visits, customized trainings, one-on-one phone conversations, and even roundtables with clients and thought leaders in a particular space.

At Topcoder, we have expert communities based on certain skill sets and technologies — ranging from blockchain to cognitive technologies and a community made up entirely of veterans — as well as Talent as a Service, an offering that pairs a client with a vetted pool of experts that have typically won prior public crowdsourcing competitions with the client. Providing access to a curated group of experts in a specific language or discipline can give businesses the team they need on demand — without having to hire and assemble one internally.

Intellectual capital on demand

This particular model isn’t based on resources. Consider a company called ARM. They produce the patents for intellectual property, including most of the world’s microchips. In fact, most Apple devices are ARM-powered. For a company that doesn’t technically make anything, they’re ridiculously successful because they own the patents and architecture for a chip. Everyone licenses it because they’re already so far ahead of the competition. All this to say that if something has already been invented — as is the case for ARM — you should be able to tap into the invention by paying a usage fee, rather than having to pay each and every time.

Success in the gig economy hinges on radical agency

For freelancers today, no matter who you are or what your background is, you can have success in the gig economy if your work is great. For businesses, whether the model you choose is rooted in competition or leasing out a first-of-its-kind invention — or if you use all of the above, or some combination of the three — you’ll surface more ideas, scale faster, and reach new target markets by tapping into the increasingly global workforce. By thinking like an exponential organization, you’ll grow exponentially.

Attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos this month? Don’t miss our panel — Radical Agency: The Individuals and Industries That Win in the New Gig Economy — on January 24 at 7am.

Jiordan Castle

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