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...