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Exponential organisations a must for Africa

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Salim Ismail, global tech strategist and co-founder of Singularity University.
Salim Ismail, global tech strategist and co-founder of Singularity University.

If African businesses want to thrive well into the future, they need to collaborate. In fact, the 21st century is going to be all about collaboration.

This is according to Salim Ismail, best-selling author, global tech strategist and co-founder of Singularity University.

The Internet has given more and more people a voice, as well as granting them the opportunity to seek out information, he notes.

South Africa needs to be a country that drives trade and collaboration across the African continent. "Remember that Africa is the fastest growing continent and has the youngest population, which is a tremendous opportunity.

"Investing in the future will yield enormous dividends and allow the continent to leapfrog the rest of the world, much like Japan and Korea did after World War II."

Change has never been as intense as it is today. This is largely due to rapid advances in technologies. In response to these changes, a new breed of company has emerged; one that knows how to respond, explains Ismail.

"Exponential organisations (so named for their ability to grow 10 times as fast as established organisational structures) are not just built to survive the impact of accelerating technologies, they thrive because of them." They are lean, purpose-driven initiatives designed for exponential growth.

These businesses use the community and crowd, and they leverage assets and experimentation, he says. Take Uber, for example. This bright idea has been able to expand so rapidly because the business does not hire its own staff. The same goes for TED, which leverages insights from the community.

"Both have been able to expand incredibly quickly, especially when compared with traditional organisations."

Ismail points out that many of the attributes of an exponential organisation can function quite well in "low tech" environments. "In nations where the infrastructure has been lacking historically, it is possible to leapfrog in terms of technology rollout. It's actually harder in the industrialised world because the business community has to unlearn 50 years of traditional business thinking."

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With the rise of the Internet and vast improvements in connectivity, where you are in the world is no longer important. What is important is having a mindset that takes advantage of the available technologies.

All too often, well-established businesses attack any major innovation much like a body's immune system would fight disease. But this makes achieving exponential change immensely difficult. To mitigate this, it is important to educate yourself online, join communities, read the books and challenge your current mindset around technology and how it can be used for good.

Keen to hear more from Salim Ismail? Head to Africa Tech Week, taking place in Cape Town on 4 and 5 March, where he will give the keynote address.

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