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The Most Significant Issue Of Our Time
By Eli Bay   Printer Friendly Version

When asked what he thought was the most important force in the world, Albert Einstein replied: compound interest.

As we are propelled into the new world of the 21st century, we must factor into our personal and organizational planning the phenomenon of exponential growth, of which compound interest is a classic example. We must consider Einstein's statement as deep insight into the most significant issue of our time.

To illustrate exponential growth, imagine a 1000 cubic meter pond in your backyard. A lily growing exponentially in the pond doubles in size at every growth stage, in this case, every 24 hours. After 30 days of doubling, it completely fills the pool. On what day does the lily fill half of the pool?

If it fills the entire pool on the 30th day, the lily must fill half of the pool on the 29th day! On the 28th day, it fills one quarter of the pool. On the 27th, one eighth, and so on. For most of the month the lily is very tiny, doubling each day, unnoticed.

After 20 doublings, two thirds of the way through the month, the lily is only one cubic meter in size, or 1/1024 of the size it will achieve in 30 days. Then, out of nowhere, you begin to notice the lily, which suddenly begins to bloom large. You have only a few days to cut the roots to prevent it from completely filling the pond.

The sudden appearance of very large numbers is the issue of exponential growth. From out of nowhere, suddenly come concerns, opportunities and problems that had not even been anticipated in one's life and career preparations.

Technological change is the exponential issue with which we are all directly dealing today. Suddenly the sheer volume of change that is coming at us is starting to overwhelm many of us, if not today, then likely by tomorrow. Just since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we, as a culture, have had to absorb and adapt to more change than has occurred than in all of previous human history. It's hard to appreciate just how awesome the strain of such rapid adaptation is upon our bodies and minds.

Scientific knowledge is also growing exponentially. The Internet is spreading exponentially. So is environmental pollution, loss of species and climate change. Everyone knows that human population growth is exponential (from 1.0 billion in 1850, to 2.5 billion in 1950, to 6.0 billion in 1998, to a projected 10-12 billion in 2025). AIDS is also spreading exponentially, as is urbanization and the consumption of natural resources. We can therefore anticipate with certainty that the changes of the next ten years will continue to grow exponentially and make the last ten years seem like "the good old days".

Our cultural failure to anticipate the mind body stress of this "future shock" is already very costly. The success skill of the future is to recognize this emerging "hyper change" and to adequately prepare ourselves and our organizations to deal with it.

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