Lately I have been thinking a lot about how to massively scale an organization and its outputs — particularly when you have a product and thus business model which isn’t entirely digital: It is one thing to create a Software-As-A-Service business or an app and scale that up to a significant amount of users/customers — it is a whole different game, when you want to do this for a service or consulting model which requires human beings delivering these services.
The old model for scale was to build more extensive (and complex) organizations ever: You hire more people who then can service more customers. To manage this, you typically create a hierarchical organizational structure which requires, even more, people as you now have people managing people who manage people. In the end your growth is limited both by your ability to sell and hire.
This model does not work all that well anymore — we are operating in a world which is defined by exponential growth in technology, yet these business models are inherently linear. If you are good, you can parallelize them — which accelerates your linear path but still doesn’t get you anywhere close to exponential growth.
There is a better way — and this model isn’t even new; we have built massively scaled organizations with it for quite a while now. Instead of building a tightly controlled environment where you control the entire system, you instead give up control and build a decentralized organization.
By establishing a robust set of core value and believes, empowering people in the network to act like nodes making autonomous decisions and routing around the core to get things done, plus replacing hierarchy with meritocracy, you remove the limitations of a serial organizational model and turn it into an exponential one.
This is how the team which built Mozilla and the Firefox web browser created an organizations servicing 500 million users with two (!) full-time employees in customer support. It is how my wife Jane created the most influential pro-bono executive coaching organizations for young women leaders in the world; still running it from our kitchen table at home. And it is how countless consulting, innovation, design and marketing agencies in the world successfully compete with the largest players in their respective industries.
Make no mistake — it’s not something you can build overnight. It requires a massive change in leadership (on all levels of an organization) — but the results are over and over again staggering.
If this intrigues you — read Fast Company’s excellent article about Dee Hock’s chaordic system at payment juggernaut VISA, watch my former boss John Lilly describe how we built Mozilla and spend some time on Google researching the topic. For me — it’s the only useful model in our exponential times.