#21: Building Exponential Organizations & Transforming Broken Systems w/ Salim Ismail, Chairman at OpenExO, Founding Executive Director at Singularity University, Author, & Serial Entrepreneur

Hello! I’m Julian and I’m a Gen Z entrepreneur, software engineer, and podcaster. I am the fusion of an ambitious entrepreneur, a tech whiz, a futurist, a productivity aficionado, and a self-improvement junkie.
I am currently the Co-Founder & CEO at Mindflow (https://apple.co/3QFdPlE). Previously, I was the co-founder & CTO at Vize and worked as a Software Engineer at Meta, LinkedIn, and Goldman Sachs.

“If your product is not 10x better than the status quo, the market will ignore you. If your product is 10x better, the market can’t ignore you.”

– Salim Ismail

The companies that end up going bankrupt do so because they fail to disrupt themselves. In other words, they generate such an insane amount of revenue that they develop a corporate immune system that will attack any idea that poses a threat to the company’s core business.

This was the core lesson that Salim Ismail learned during his time running Yahoo!’s internal incubator, Brickhouse. Annoyed by the unnecessary hurdles that were placed in front of Salim’s attempts to innovate at Yahoo!, he ended up leaving the company and shortly after, become the Founding Executive Director of Singularity University. Singularity University helps leaders adapt to a world of accelerating change and empower them to leverage tech to improve the lives of one billion people over the next five years. Singularity Group was founded on the premise that the world’s greatest problems are the world’s greatest opportunities.

It was during his time at Singularity University that Salim did his seminal research on the attributes that the fastest growing companies in the world had in common. Salim compiled this research to write his popular book, Exponential Organizations.

🧑🏼‍🦲 More About Salim

Salim is a sought-after business strategist who presents globally to the leaders of many of the world’s largest companies and Heads of State.

He has been featured across many media outlets, including The New York Times, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, WIRED, Vogue, Fox Business, and the BBC. Part of Salim’s magnetism is that he speaks from experience in transforming companies.

He is the Chairman at OpenExO, the Author of Exponential Organizations, a Board Member at X Prize Foundation, and the Founding Executive Director at Singularity University.

Salim is a serial entrepreneur. Most recently, he founded OpenExO and ExO Works. He previously founded several technology companies, including New York Grant Company, Confabb, PubSub Concepts, Fastrack Institute, and Ångströ, which Google acquired in 2010. In addition, he led Brickhouse, Yahoo!’s internal incubator.

Salim’s quantum physics and philosophy education combined with his career experience gives him a uniquely macro vision of how the institutions that underpin our society and economy are broken and should be fixed.

“The fact that the major problems of our time are systemic problems implies that they require corresponding systemic solutions — solutions that do not solve any problem in isolation but deal with it within the context of other related problems”

– Fritjof Capra

💬 Discussed in this episode…

● [0:21] How Salim got intro entrepreneurship
● [4:55] How to transform different industries
● [8:15] Salim’s perspective on systems thinking
● [11:42] How to transform existing systems
● [14:20] What is an Exponential Organization?
● [17:28] The 11 attributes of an Exponential Organization
● [23:50] The attributes entrepreneurs overlook the most
● [27:30] If Salim rewrote his book, what would he change?
● [37:20] How Salim approaches problem-solving
● [39:27] Salim’s advice to young entrepreneurs

🚀 How To Start a Startup (According to Salim)

  1. Finding your MTP (Massively Transformative Purpose) is the first and most important step.
  2. After you find your MTP, either create or find communities that are trying to solve that problem. In those communities, you will be able to learn more about the problem and find the people you need to form a team.
  3. Put together a founding team with a few key roles such as engineering, business, product, etc.
  4. Come up with your breakthrough Idea (aka your Moonshot) that is at least 10x better than the status quo. If your product is not 10x better than the status quo, the market will ignore you. If your product is 10x better, the market can’t ignore you.
  5. Follow lean startup thinking, such as iterating on your MVP until you find product-market fit. You must go from 0 to 1 before you can begin to scale (going from 1 to n).
  6. Set up the rest of the ExO attributes

The 11 Attributes of an Exponential Organization

You can read this article for an overview of the 11 attributes of an ExO or read Salim’s book, Exponential Organizations, for a deep dive.

💣 3 Value Bombs

💥 1. To transform a system, it is better to create an entirely new system rather than trying to restructure an existing system. After studying examples from history, Salim has found that you can never ever fix the old. The only way to transform a system is to go to the edge of the existing system and build a new capability and let people migrate to it and let that become the new center of gravity. When Salim and his team work with big companies, they do not try to do disruptive innovation in the mothership. Instead, they create an edge organization and let it become the new center of gravity.
💥 2. Emotional intelligence is one of the most important entrepreneurial skills due to the fact that starting a company is one of the hardest things that anybody will ever do. Building a startup requires breaking all the existing rules and stepping outside all the existing boxes and paradigms, which creates a huge amount of stress and uncertainty. You will easily crumble and give up too early if you don’t have the mental resilience and ability to persevere that emotional intelligence helps to give you.
💥 3. Here are three questions you can ask to help you find your MTP (Massively Transformative Purpose)
1. If you had to wake up at 6:00 AM every morning to work on a problem, which problem would it be?
2. If you could spend a billion dollars to solve one problem globally, which one would it be?
3. If you had unlimited free time, what would you work on?

📚 People & Resources Mentioned 

Exponential Organization Book by Salim Ismail
EXO Builder
The Mankind Project:
“A weekend project where they take your psyche, turn it inside out, do an oil lube and filter, and then put it all back together again in 48 hours.
OpenExo.com: free training on the basics of the exponentials model and a global community with over 8,000 people working on transforming society

📱 Socials

● Salim’s Personal Website
● Salim’s LinkedIn
● Salim’s Instagram
● Salim’s Twitter

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Episode 21