Originally posted by Oren Berkovich February 4, 2016 via LinkedIn
When I joined Deloitte after years of working at a startup, I had to quickly adapt to the structured environment found in most large companies. As I learned to appreciate the strengths and challenges of large corporations, it was clear that when it comes to event planning – even a relatively small event will require long preparation. Budgets are agreed-to in yearly plans, content needs to be reviewed by multiple people and various event teams need to be notified in advance.
A few weeks ago we tried to challenge that norm and what happened next proved the power of the same type of thinking we wanted to introduce at our event.
It started shortly after we learned that Salim Ismail would be coming to Toronto for a quick visit. Salim is the founding Executive Director of Singularity University and has a track record of helping Fortune 100 CEOs think about how to apply exponential thinking to invigorate entire industries. Having him speak with our clients was a unique opportunity we did not want to miss. He had two hours free in his already packed calendar and we wanted to host an exclusive, last minute, external event.
When we pitched the idea to invite a small number of our leading clients in such short notice, our Chief Innovation Officer, a powerful catalyst for innovation, was immediately on board and gave us the green-light. The blessing came with a warning that since this was an unplanned event there was no budget and we wouldn’t have any of the typical dedicated resources from our marketing or event planning teams. Given the tight time line, my lack of experience in event planning, the level of executives we wanted to target and the limited resources – I left the office that day with a mixed feeling of anxiety and enthusiasm. On one hand, if this had happened back when I was working in a startup – I would have felt entirely confident we could make it happen. On the other hand, going forward with this plan would challenge established procedures and norms that the Firm had built its 150 years of global success upon.
A little more than two weeks later we completely exceeded our original goal as more than one hundred senior executives from Canada’s leading companies were engaged in Salim’s thought-provoking presentation. How did that happen? By taking a framework for exponential business growth, and adapting it into our strategy for executing a seemingly non-executable event.
The framework I am referring to is called ExO and it was developed by Salim Ismail, the very same speaker at our event. Salim spent years researching how new types of organizations are becoming ten times better, faster and cheaper than other traditional companies. He calls these new breed of businesses “Exponential Organizations” (ExOs) and the book that captures this paradigm shift recently became an Amazon bestseller.
According to Salim, there are ten traits that set ExOs apart from ‘linear’ organizations. The first five focus externally and correspond to the acronym SCALE; the next five look internally and align with the acronym IDEAS.
So when we started planning the event we decided to test whether the same attributes that allowed Airbnb, Uber, TED and others to grow exponentially could be leveraged to scale attendance for our event.
First, we had to get a team together. A few of us reached a few others, who then reached others. Shortly after, we had a handful of groups from across the Firm. Each self-organized group autonomously gravitated towards different tasks based on their unique skills set and experience. One group handled all the prints, one was in-charge of the venue, and others oversaw content, budget, and guest list.
To allow everyone to collaborate efficiently we leveraged free online social platforms. Nothing that an average millennial would find too groundbreaking, but for the Firm these tools were not common. Google Docs, Slack, Trello, Asana, Hackpad, BetterWorks – there are so many incredibly powerful tools for speeding up conversation and decision cycles among dispersed teams.
For graphics and design, crowdsourcing platforms allowed us to scale outside the boundaries of the organization and create content cheaply and quickly. For example, it is quite amazing what people from across the world will do with 24 hours for $5 on Fiverr.com.
We used Eventbrite as our dashboard. It provided the teams with real-time data and insights on our progress and RSVP status. Behavioral Economics and Gamification have taught us that social pressure is an effective driver for action, so we limited the number of tickets on the event page to constantly show that less than 10 tickets remaining. By doing so we were able to create a sense of urgency and scarcity that drove people to RSVP sooner and in high numbers
Meanwhile, we ‘awarded’ key leaders from the Firm with five tickets to invite clients to the event and ‘armed’ them with a well crafted, pre-scripted email that positioned the event as a unique opportunity not to be missed. News about the event spread, overflowing our shared event inbox with requests for additional tickets.
The result of these simple techniques was that more than 250 personal invitations were sent out by partners from across the Firm. Some partners received such a positive response from their guests that they were willing to contribute to the internally crowdsourced budget we were collecting.
To summarize, the success of this flash event made us realize that you don’t have to be ‘steering the ship’ to create ‘exponential’ change. But rather a small group of passionate individuals can do bold things when they work together towards a shared purpose… just like an exponential organization.