Learning To Think Exponentially At EDX19NL

Rinse Tamsma

How can you take off with exponential thinking? That was the central question during the Executive Digital Exchange, an event that took place in Amsterdam on April 16th and 17th. During two inspiration-packed days, about 250 C-level attendees found inspiration and turned exponential thinking into doing. Rinse Tamsma, managing director of SAP in The Netherlands, looks back on the event. 

Executive Digital Exchange (EDX19NL) was a great and inspiring experience. The event was held in the Amsterdome, an iconic piece of architecture with an interior made almost entirely of recycled materials. Executive Digital Exchange even had its own theme song, arranged by award-winning composer Erwin Steijlen.

Bringing digital transformation and global exponential developments into the boardroom: that is what we – working closely together with our content partner Singularity University and our exclusive sponsors Google Cloud and Intel – achieved with Executive Digital Exchange. The event centered around three main themes that are being impacted heavily by exponential developments: Future of Work, Future of Sustainable Business, and Future of Customer Experience.

Let me double your penny

It’s difficult – even counter-intuitive – to think in exponential terms. Singularity University speaker Aaron Frank illustrated this by asking a simple question: “Would you like to receive $1 million now? Or do you want me to double a single penny every day for 31 days in a row?” At first, you would tend to go for the fast million. But consider this: after two days you will have three pennies. At the end of the month, you would have almost $20 million. This is the essence of exponential growth.

When you use today’s computers to build tomorrow’s computers, you can use them to create the next generation of machines even faster. It self-amplifies as a system. This holds true for every information system. It also holds true for the companies using these systems to create new products and business models.

Singularity University and global planetary optimism 

Everything that happened at EDX19NL should be seen in the light of doubling pennies and thinking exponentially. Day one was about absorbing information and gathering knowledge from business and thought leaders like Marcel Krom (PostNL), Tom Kooyman (Lightyear One), Melanie Skowron (FC Bayern München), Rex Briggs (Marketing Evolution), Michel Scholte (True Price), Jurriaan Ruys (Land Life Company), and many others.

Much of the inspiration was provided by content partner Singularity University, a global learning and innovation community based in Silicon Valley, that prepares global leaders and organizations for the future by exploring the opportunities and implications of exponential technologies. Singularity University speaker Ramez Naam, computer scientist, futurist, and award-winning author, showed us in a very optimistic fashion how exponential developments could help us face the world’s biggest problems. Ramez said, “We have the innovative power to save all of these. Embrace the future and not the past.”

Take a deep breath

The world depends on technology and developments that no one understands. How many jobs will need to be re-skilled? Strategic futurist and corporate strategist Nancy Giordano – also from Singularity University – helped navigate a vision of that future. Her tip was simple: “Breathe… Wonder. Navigate. Take the time to reflect. What does the future need from you? Ask yourself what you can contribute to the future. In your work, in your life, and as a member of society. It’s not only about speed and scale but also about scope. And then… be audacious. Take a bigger leap, jump further, much faster.”

The customer is in the driver’s seat

In an exponential world, the customer needs to be at the center of everything you do as a company. Or as Brian Duffy, president EMEA North at SAP, put it, “the customer is in the driver’s seat.” By using data to deliver a personalized experience, you can thrive as a company in an exponential world. But that can also be a challenge. Ryan Smith, CEO and co-founder of Qualtrics, introduced the attendees to the Experience Gap and challenged his listeners to become Experience Brains. “In a company, 80% of the employees believe they deliver a superior experience. Only eight percent of the customers agree. Executives must own all dimensions of experience and identify these experience gaps.”

Experiment and embrace failure

Exponential change is also impacting the worker. Technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence, and biotech will change the work floor. Sixty-five percent of our children will work in jobs that don’t exist today. Marc Teerlink, SAP’s global VP for Intelligent Enterprise Solutions and Artificial Intelligence, isn’t afraid that robots will replace us. According to Marc, infusing our daily work with AI will take mind-numbing tasks away and make our work easier by expanding our information processing abilities. Marc said, “people want to do the same things they always have done. With less hassle. Let the robots do the heavy lifting, let the humans think.”

How can you help your workers to thrive in this new exponential world? Guillaume Leygues, customer engineering manager for Google Cloud Northern Europe, explained that Google stimulates innovation by embedding trust and encouraging failure. Guillaume quoted Laszlo Bock: “If you give people freedom, they will amaze you. If you give them a little infrastructure and room to change the world.”

You can also default to yes. According to Ramez Naam, “yes” is the default answer every manager should give when somebody proposes an innovative idea. Defaulting to yes provides the psychological safety needed for innovation. He added: “Experiment. Embrace failure. Bias for action and autonomy. Disrupt. And act with purpose.”

Think like a designer (or an architect)

Being able to navigate exponential change is also about the ability to wonder, to observe, and to create. Just like journalist and China expert Christina Bouttrup. She challenged attendees not to turn their back on China. She shared an amazing range of innovations and developments in the country, from social buying to 30-minute food delivery. “China is leading in many of the new technologies shaping our future,” she stated. “They learned fast. And now they are leading.”

We were also very proud to welcome world-renowned architect Francine Houben, founder of Mecanoo, to the stage. The first stage of every Mecanoo project is observing. It’s all about getting to know the environment, the people, the customs, the spaces in order to come up with a solution that’s exactly right for that specific environment. “If there is no problem, there is no use for me,” Francine said.

Impact lab sessions

In addition to all the information gathering, Executive Digital Exchange also was about doing. During the Impact Lab Sessions, we challenged attendees to take a challenge in their own company and put it in an exponential context, formulating a moonshot idea and thinking of the steps needed to bring it to life. Participants left the lab with an Impact Plan, laying the groundwork for their own digital transformation roadmap. I spoke to several attendees who were delighted about the amount of work they got done during these pressure cooker sessions and the number of fresh ideas they gathered in such a short period.

The conclusion of these two days in Amsterdam: Change has never been so fast, and it will never again be as slow as today. The message is: If you want to act, don’t wait. Now is the time.

If you want your organizational transformation to succeed, get inspired and watch the after-movie.

Rinse Tamsma

About Rinse Tamsma

Rinse Tamsma is the Managing Director for SAP The Netherlands. Rinse has served in many leadership roles across SAP, including Global COO for the Large Corporate and Small and Midsize Business Segments, Senior Vice President of General Business in the Middle and Eastern Europe (MEE) Region and Vice President of Global Sales for SAP Business One.