There is a lingering notion in the world of business and beyond that organizations are things with four walls, that employees are people who report to work inside them every day for years on end, that work is a matter of executing on defined “KPIs,” and that success is a product of climbing ladders and exerting an ever-greater span of control. But the fact is, we’re in the midst of a great reshuffling of the talent deck.

Today, some 35% of workers in the United States alone are “contingent”—freelance, temporary, part-time, contractors—and that number is expected to rise to 40% or 50%, depending upon which report you read. The members of the next generation of workers are expected to change careers at least ten times before the age of 40, while solo businesses are already popping up at the rate of about half a million a year. Meanwhile, more than 70% of workers in the U.S.—and 87% of workers worldwide—report that they are not engaged at work.

In other words, while workers are becoming more and more mobile, entrepreneurial, creative, and free, traditional organizations are becoming less and less appealing. No matter how many nap pods, “hot desks,” and free lunches companies provide, most still can’t seem to shake the factory mentality that put flesh and blood, freethinking human beings into the straightjacket of institutional obedience at the dawn of the industrial revolution. To this day, the ruling management model promotes efficiency over every other goal and conformity over every other human virtue. It’s called bureaucracy—an amazingly effective approach . . . if your goal is efficiency at scale. If you’re after anything else—such as adaptability, innovation, or unleashing passion—then you’re out of luck.

The most important leadership questions on the table today are:

  • How do you amplify human capability?
  • How do you multiply the impact of human accomplishment?
  • And, how do you mobilize and aggregate contribution in ever more powerful ways?

Why ask these kinds of questions? Because that’s where all the leverage is today. In this creative, disruptive economy, your share of profits is a function of your share of differentiation, which is a function of your share of creativity—just how deeply, how broadly, and how systematically you can unleash and leverage human potential—wherever it exists.

That’s a two-part challenge: organizations and leaders today must focus on unleashing human capacity—designing environments and systems for work that inspire individuals to contribute their full imagination, initiative, and passion every day—and on aggregating human capability—leveraging new social, mobile, and digital technologies to activate, enlist, and organize talent across boundaries. We launched the Unlimited Human Potential M-Prize to unearth the most progressive practices and boldest ideas around those two challenges. Today, we are delighted to announce the winners of the M-Prize, selected from over one hundred entries from every kind of organization and every corner of the world.

Meet the winners (in alphabetical order):

Now, for a deeper dive into the winning entries:

Zero Hierarchy, Maximum Collaboration

The old question was: How do we get people to serve the organization’s goals? The new question is: How do we create an environment, systems for work, and a sense of community so compelling that people are willing to bring their greatest gifts to work every day?

The answer to that question for Mario Kaphan and his colleagues at the Brazilian e-recruiting company, is a singular design for a radically open, free, and entrepreneurial organization. In his winning entry, Horizontal Management at Vagas.comKaphan describes the company’s fifteen-year experiment in managing without managers. has no hierarchy, no titles, and no formal rules. Individual “members” enjoy a remarkable degree of autonomy and collegiality (the mantra is “individuals are empowered to do whatever they want BUT everybody has everything to do with that”). All work is done in small, self-managed teams, and decisions are made via reasoned debate and consensus—an initially laborious process that all members practice daily and that yields powerful results in terms of alignment and agility.

At Vagas, every management process—from reviews and rewards to strategy setting—has been reinvented as highly participative. Rather than rigid planning and budget cycles, the rhythm of the organization is set on a rolling two-week management cycle—each team meets fortnightly to review progress and to drive improvement toward its goals. The result is a fast-growing, entrepreneurial, customer-focused organization where shared values are the guide and the glue and individual initiative and imagination are the fuel.

Shared values was the starting point for Wellington, NZ-based Enspiral, a path-breaking collective of professionals and social enterprises driven by the desire to change the world—and to make progress on making all organizations fundamentally more human, more inclusive, and more collaborative. As an entirely new kind of organization—a collective of individuals with a common ideal working on different problems with radically distributed resources, information, and control—the Enspiral team found itself tackling and disrupting just about every core management process—from decision-making and direction setting to budgeting—one by one.

Alanna Krause’s winning M-Prize story, Collaborative Funding: Dissolve Authority, Empower Everyone, and Crowdsource a Smarter, Transparent Budgetrecounts the development of Enspiral’s approach to collaborative budgeting. Krause not only describes the development of a visually engaging, intuitive, and flexible approach to budgeting—an app called Co-Budget that started out as a shared spreadsheet—but also the resulting increased transparency, agency, big-picture thinking, and surprising generosity that emerges when you involve everybody in deciding on where and how to spend resources. Just as important, it offers a short course in launching a low-risk, high-impact experiment in even the most high-stakes realm—prototype a solution with low-tech tools, test it, measure it, improve it, and repeat.

All Work is Social Work

Not surprisingly, many of the entries in this challenge focused on leveraging emerging digital, mobile, social, and analytics technologies to redesign work in order to remove the performance drag of top-heavy management controls and to attract and unleash individual contribution. Toronto-based Klick Health, the world’s largest digital health agency focused on equipping providers and patients with insight and information about care, reinvented its culture and approach to work with an organizational operating system called “Genome.” Chelsea Lefaivre’s winning story, How We Harnessed Big Data and Social Technology to Empower and Engage Employeesunpacks the workings of this fully integrated “social environment.”

All Klick employees start their day by logging into Genome—and spend their day working and connecting via its many features, including: “tickets” or tasks, project homepages and wikis, the “gene sequencer” program to create a personalized plan and support for any individual starting a new project, and dynamic dashboards to help individuals set, prioritize, and track goals on a moment-to-moment basis. Every aspect of Genome is designed to drive the right information and tools to people at the moment they need them. At Klick, work in progress is shared and visible, which allows people to step in and offer builds, help colleagues clear obstacles, and adjust in real time. Crucially, Genome evolves with the organization—some 70% of its features and builds are suggested and developed by employees, and the practice of “digital Darwinism” ensures that anything that doesn’t get adopted enthusiastically dies off.

Lukas Masuch’s winning hack, Enterprise Knowledge Graph—One Graph to Connect them Alloffers up a detailed design for a powerful platform to structure, simplify, and render immediately accessible all the relevant knowledge and data so often dispersed and hidden across large organizations. Leveraging the latest Big Data and graph technology, Masuch imagines a platform that sits on top of existing corporate wikis, document sharing systems, and social networks, with a rich menu of possible applications. One example: “enhanced enterprise search,” which immediately assembles a total view of related content, experts, and connections for any search query.

While Genome and the Enterprise Knowledge Graph seek to switch people on, connect them together, and extend autonomy and accountability to the far edges of the organization, Andrew Jones’ Nomatik Coworking hack seeks to build community and connection beyond the walls of any particular organization. Nomatik is a clever “work social” platform designed to extend the spirit of coworking beyond actual coworking spaces, to engineer productive matches between individual talents and organizations, and to reimagine the boundaries of the organization in the process.

It’s an approach that acknowledges that no single organization will ever be able to directly employ all of the relevant, talented people who could make valuable contributions. And, just as important, that your colleagues aren’t necessarily the people who sit next to you at work, but the people who are working on the same problems with the same kind of passion as you are. The organizations and leaders who figure out the most clever and compelling ways to connect those people and organizations together are the real winners in the creative economy.

Big Company, Individual Impact

Now, it’s one thing to cultivate a culture of innovation, participation, and collaboration in an organization purpose-built for that approach. It’s another thing entirely to make that journey as an older, bigger, more entrenched organization. That was exactly the challenge that the insurance practice at global IT consultancy Cognizant took up a few years ago. As Shyam Sundar Nagarajan recounts in his winning story, Incubating Intrapreneurs to Revitalize Customer Businessthe leaders of the practice used the urgent challenge of reimaging the insurance industry for the digital, social, mobile age as a lever to involve and equip individuals across the 9,200-person organization to act as true innovators and entrepreneurs.

The real genius of the approach was to float the call for disruptive innovation as the “InsuranceNext Premier League,” modeled on the passionate obsession of so many of Cognizant’s Indian employees: cricket, the Indian Premier League, and the competition for the championship title. The initiative utilized every innovation tool in the book—from storyboarding to prototyping to role play to app building—to involve every single employee, produce 88 viable business ideas from some 968 “players” and ultimately ten fortune-flipping business concepts presented in an experiential environment to some 40 different customers.

While the Cognizant InsuranceNext initiative represents a sweeping approach to embedding innovation capabilities and entrepreneurial behavior across the organization, Clare Norman’s entry, Developing Tomorrow’s Talent: A Girl, A Blog, and 30 Days to Business Impact, is a purposefully narrowly-defined, tactical approach with a big impact: rethinking “people development” as an HR-driven, discrete activity to a continuous approach woven into the fabric of everyday working life.

How? The deceptively simple “30 Day Challenge:” a program of thirty “micro-actions” that can be integrated into daily work and take less than ten minutes to accomplish. Intentionally micro and commonsensical—from writing a short note of acknowledgement to a colleague to introducing yourself to someone new to stepping back to write down three things that went well this week—the 30 Day Challenge activities had an immediate and widespread impact, with some 8,650 direct participants interacting with 61,000 colleagues. Participants reported long-term positive effects and changes in behavior, and the 30 Day Challenge has resulted in a series of spin-offs, including a coaching challenge, a culture change challenge for a client, an onboarding challenge for new recruits, and a learning challenge, among others.

There is so much to learn from these progressive approaches to unleashing human potential. You can explore the full line-up of winning entries and learn more about the Unlimited Human Potential M-Prize here.

Special “Idea Accelerator” Prizes

We are also happy to announce that several entries from the pool of Unlimited Human Potential Challenge finalists have been selected to receive additional prizes, based on their potential to produce a viable app, product, company, or even a movement.

Winners of Design Thinking Workshop with experts from SAP Labs

Winners of SAP Ventures Mentoring Session including guidance and introductions to incubators and/or angel investors in the SAP Ventures network