I’ll level with you all – some of the innovations and new technologies coming out of Silicon Valley make my brain explode. Phrases like “global exponential organization movement” sound revolutionary and amazing coming from someone like Kent Langley, but when I try to say them, I sound like a first grader making up words.
Thankfully, Langley – the President and CxO of ProductionScale – is generous when it comes to sharing the knowledge he’s amassed over his career. He shares this knowledge with his students as a faculty member at Singularity University. Langley also leverages his knowledge to help cities looking for scalable solutions to urban problems as the Chief Science and Technology Officer of Fastrack Institute. His work may seem complicated to novices like me, but the lessons he has for founders, CEOs and entrepreneurs are easy to understand.
When Langley discovered his “why”
As a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur, Langley has exited multiple companies. Along the way, he’s engineered pivots and experienced plenty of light bulb moments. But you might be surprised to hear how he discovered his “why” – his purpose in business – in the unlikeliest of places.
“I’d started a company and nothing was working,” he said. “I couldn’t push this cutting edge, beautiful technology into the market segment we’d chosen. To keep from beating my head against the wall, we started seeking ways to pivot.”
As Langley and his team soon discovered, the time to pivot had already passed.
“It was too late to pivot,” Langley recalled. “So here we are with this failing organization that isn’t functioning like we want it to, and during this time, my 7-year-old son asks, ‘Daddy, what do you do?’ I started explaining to him that I built technologies that did x, y, and z, and in that moment, I realized I didn’t like the way our technology was being applied. I resolved to find a better reason to do this sort of work. What I’m doing now was born from the frustration and embarrassment I felt over this failure.”
If you’re struggling to find purpose in the work you’re doing, or you’ve lost sight of what you originally set out to accomplish because of the day-to-day minutia – a “forest for the trees” situation, as Langley would say – explain your work like you would to a child. Strip away all the technical jargon and get down to the meat and bones and what you do.
You’ll either discover a passion buried under all the junk or find there’s no passion there at all, which means it’s time to move on. You might also realize you’ve drifted away from your original vision and should course correct to avoid losing track entirely.
Disrupt your company before others disrupt it for you
In addition to finding your purpose, Langley also advises companies to become their own disruptors rather than be disrupted by external forces. In his work as an advisor for ExO Works, this is one of Langley’s primary focuses: improving the scalability and agility of an organization’s people, products, processes and technology.
Langley strives to help companies become “exponential organizations” (ExO), which is the technical term for an organization that leverages technology to do things 10x more effectively for around a 10th of the cost. Some of the first companies to intuitively take the ExO approach were Google, Apple, Airbnb and Uber.
The key to transforming your organization, as Langley explains, is not to carve out the guts of what you do. Rather, you want to add on adjacencies at the edge that can grow your business substantially while preserving the main revenue lines.
“We’re often asked: ‘How could we possibly become an exponential organization?” Langley said. “This is a company that makes widgets, for example, and they’re always going to make widgets. We’d tell them the core of their business won’t completely transform because they need to make the widgets to stay afloat. But by adding exponential technology – tech with double the speed/power and half the cost – at the edges, they can push meaningful transformation and disruption within their industry.”
Langley has found that when organizations take a deep look at themselves and discover they don’t have a massive, transformative purpose, they’ll begin reaching for things that will allow them to fill that void. Becoming an ExO, or at least disrupting the culture within their organization, is a way to begin the process of positively impacting the world.
Leaving a legacy of giving
Whether you’re a startup founder, a CEO, an investor or an entrepreneur, getting clarity on the kind of legacy you want to leave can be difficult. Many of us are so focused on our business and caught up in the daily grind that we never stop to consider what we want to be remembered for after we’re gone. Langley said he hopes to be remembered for an attribute we should all seek to incorporate in our lives: a giving spirit.
“I’ve figured out along the way that to get something of value, you have to be willing to give something of value,” he explained. “I want people to say about me that I shared my knowledge with the world and it made a positive impact. I hope to leave that kind of legacy in both my personal and professional relationships.”
Langley understands that in the cutthroat world of business, giving is not always easy.
“It goes against human nature at certain times, depending on the context,” he said. “I’m trying to make giving a core part of who I am. I want to generously share what I’ve spent a lifetime learning about the implementation of technology.”