Thought-provoking correspondence with a very smart reader - I asked him for permission to post this, and he said yes but would prefer to be anonymous since it looks incredibly ambitious. These are great insights, I'd love to give him credit for them. I recommend you read the whole letter, thought provoking -
My goal is to "grow" exponentially. Each year I want to get X times "better" than the previous year.
Here's what I mean by that. Most people grow naturally, they get wiser, more experienced as time goes by. Some grow pretty slow, it takes them a lot of time to improve their skills and life, others seem to make huge jumps year after year. I guess most people, slow or fast, never think consciously about their "growth speed", they're satisfied with whatever comes naturally for them.
If you're, say, a talented programmer, you're pretty much cruising through jobs, technologies, and technical challenges. There's nothing much to be dissatisfied about and you feel like you're doing great. But, is this your natural growth limit? Can you grow even faster? Can you design your life for compound growth?
Here's a few things known to make you grow: reading books, spending time with interesting people, travelling, practicing your skills and profession, getting out of your comfort zone, learning a new skill, managing your time more efficiently, not watching TV, getting consistently good sleep, mentors, and so on. I'm sure you could easily quadruple this list.
Some things you do just add up to your growth speed, like reading books, or practicing. Others compound: better managing your time gives you even more time for growth. Getting good at something makes it easier to find talented people to spend time with. Getting consistently good sleep will makes learning faster. Learning to use a computer gives you access to a wealth of information to learn from, etc.
My thesis is that you can engineer your life for exponential growth. And what I think I personally need in order to achieve that is some sort of system / structure. I think I need some sort of system to establish new habits fast and constantly supervise if things go to plan. There's always a reason holding me back from meeting my reading quota. I don't get enough sleep 5/7 nights. I often find myself spending unnecessary too much time on things, and on, and on. Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissatisfied with my life, quite the contrary! I'm just trying to become self aware of what's holding me back.
Does that make sense? Is there an autobiography of someone achieving this? Do you have such a system?
It makes perfect sense to me. I think about it all the time.
One of the biggest downsides, I think, to looking to improve rapidly - you're always aware of more you could be doing. This is a trap I find very smart/driven people fall into - they think they're not getting anything done. It's important to step back and look at all the cool things you've done periodically... because I know this "always falling short" feeling. It's common.
But beyond that, is exponential growth possible? Yes, I think so. You can do a mix of evolutionary and revolutionary improvements.
Evolutionary: Spend time a little bit better, optimize your sleep a little more, eat a little better, start by doing your most important task at the start of the day, etc.
Revolutionary: Look for connections between unrelated fields, so that you can bring a practice from one field into another. Find a shorter way to get there from here. Invent. Work on things of much larger magnitude. Do no downside, extremely high upside stuff.
The evolutionary improvements - kaizen type stuff - are necessary for getting the most out of your life, and pave the way for revolutionary stuff. Working on bigger things gets a lot easier with more energy, more focus, being more organized, etc.
But evolutionary by itself only goes so far - eventually, you want to push limits and boundaries, invent, bring things together from unrelated fields, take things apart down to their simplest component parts...
In history, there's lots of people like that. A few statesmen and businessmen:
Studying history goes a long ways to show what's possible. Exponential growth? Sure, why not? It's just a mix of evolutionary and revolutionary improvements...
Two words: opportunity cost. Keep growing, sure, but keep in mind what you lose out of: simple experiences that make us think, just being there and enjoying the company of wonderful people, and using what you've made of yourself.
I guess most people, slow or fast, never think consciously about their “growth speed”, they’re satisfied with whatever comes naturally for them.
I agree with the unspoken assumption that the majority of people seem to think that there is only 1 type of growth speed.
However, I caution against also assuming too early that there are only 2 types of growth speed for whatever field you are pursuing in: the normal speed and the exponential one.
A little digression,
According to literature in learning (PDF) usually the power law is true.
I have a thought. Since all or most learning follows the power law, (the further you practice, the smaller the gains will be. Though you are still gaining in performance), we can improve on this by selectively tweak our learning tactics or learning strategies to breakthrough the plateau expected in all power law functions.
Case in point: Tiger Woods tweaked his golf swing at the (then) peak of his career. He began not winning as much as before the tweak. Got criticised, and then after that his game went up a level and became the first ever golfer to hold all 4 Major titles at the same time.
By selectively choosing the right time to change tactics, you embark on a new learning curve (power law function), allowing you to inevitably breakthrough the old learning curve you were on.
Learning wise, it appears Tiger followed this method. Career earning-wise , it appears he went on an exponential growth.
A great blog. One of the realizations that helped me was comprehending that if an insight or epiphany wasn’t actionable (didn’t lead to action) it wasn’t of much value (other than recreational). I have thought way too many deep thoughts, read too many self-empowerment books searching for the non-existent silver bullet (insight) that would allow me to bypass hard work, accumulation of small victories and risk taking.
The traditional barriers/obstacles (time, money, energy, risk taking etc) are to me somewhat secondary to just plain old inertia. But being at the right place at the right time - is that serendipitous luck or something else. You do have to factor into the equation that you are shooting at a moving target (circumstances change and you change) – times stands still for no man… As to the list of things to make you grow I would add that being conversant in the latest findings in neuroscience and positive psychology wouldn’t hurt.
Questions that I’m always pondering: how do you collapse time, how do you accelerate the learning process and how do you achieve instant intimacy/connection. All the above being said you must strive to be the best (in terms of realizing your potential) you can be. If there is a purpose in life, this might be it.
Slightly over a week ago, I committed to having the most productive 90 days of my life -- and sharing it all with you publicly. I wanted to make huge advances in my core projects, some large personal gains, and -- crucially -- I wanted to come out of this cycle feeling the strongest and healthiest of my life. So, more production than ever before, and being alive, engaged, and energized at the end of it instead of burnt out.
What's happening after one week?
Well, there's good and back. First, there's a strange "I'm being watched!" feeling which slightly increases neurosis/anxiety... and accountability. That's been the most unexpected thing -- a feeling of, "Is this an activity I'd want to own doing publicly with my time, after making a big massive commitment?"
I don't like or dislike it, per se. It's a bit odd. Actually, ok, I like it. (Most of the time!)
This site is for people who want to grow exponentially; to improve their ability to improve themselves. Is this even possible?
Here's an exponential curve:
Making one positive change makes it easier to make more positive changes in future. So at first glance, it looks as though your rate of growth should keep growing, and that exponential improvements are possible.
But clearly you can't grow exponentially forever. We don't encounter people who've reached a "productivity singularity" where they can complete their daily tasks in five minutes, and spend the rest of their time reading time-management books (while jogging on a treadmill) to become even more efficient.