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