What if someone told you that you can attain high level of proficiency (a level you admire, and aspire to achieve) in android development or writing or public speaking or a sport or any pursuit in 2-3 years. You’ll likely not believe.
People, by and large, overestimate what they can achieve in the short term (say, 3-4 months) and grossly underestimate what they can in 2-3 years.
Why this difference between what we think and what actually happens?
It’s because we humans mostly think linearly… but, in reality, things compound. If you’ve studied basic math, this difference is similar to the difference between simple interest and compound interest. You know how fast the latter grows an amount compared to the former.
The green straight line represents our thinking on how we improve. We think if we regularly work at a particular skill, our proficiency will increase linearly, as shown in this line. However, things improve differently. We start slower than we think we can. Progress in the initial phase is excruciatingly slow. (In the image above, the portion A where the linear curve is above the compounding curve shows that the actual performance is worse than what we expect.) Many quit at this stage, assuming that the disappointingly slow progress will continue in the future as well. However, if you persevere and keep improving, you’ll hit a steeper curve faster than expected. (Portion B in the image depicts this faster-than-expected growth.)
To give an example, it took me nearly 15+ hours to finish a normal-length blog post on this website when I first started writing. And I was stuck at that pace for several months. But now… I take just three hours for the same work, and am producing better quality. In the beginning, I never imagined the time taken will drop so rapidly after a point. The key during this phase was regularity at what I was doing and improvement. (You’ll see in a while why these two are important.)
I had a similar experience – not able to fathom the rapid progress I’ll make – improving my active vocabulary by more than 7,500 words and pronunciation by more than 3,400 words in under two years.
What we’ve covered so far may sound bit abstract to some of you. So let’s take few examples to understand how human beings think and how things may actually grow.
Example of linear thinking vs. compound growth
If you fold a paper of thickness 0.001 cm once, the resultant thickness will be 0.002 cm. If you fold it again, the folded paper would be 0.004 cm thick. How thick the paper would be if you could fold it 45 times?
If you haven’t seen this problem before, it’s very hard for you to guess the answer.
On the forty-fifth fold, the paper would hit the Moon! You can see the explanation of this problem on this YouTube video (duration: 3:48 minutes).
Did you notice how fast the thickness ballooned from seventeenth to twenty-fifth fold?
This is an example of extreme form of compounding. (If you noticed, the rate of growth here is 100 percent, doubling at every step.)
A result of similar compounding is what we use every day, smartphone.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, observed that the number of integrated circuits on a transistor had been doubling every 12 to 24 months. He predicted this trend is going to continue in future for around a decade or so.
The trend however continued way beyond a decade, and it’s a result of this compounded growth (doubling every 12 to 24 months) that the smartphone in your pocket is thousand times faster and million times cheaper than a supercomputer in 1970s.
Because we mostly extrapolate linearly, realities which are rooted in compound growth can be dramatically different from what we expect them to be.
However, such reality happens only when you follow the fundamentals of compounding
Here ‘P’ is the amount (or any other unit) at the starting point. It grows at an interest rate of ‘i’ per year for ‘n’ years to become ‘A’.
If you aren’t improving regularly, which means ‘i’ is zero, then you stay at the same level, no matter how many years you spend practicing.
If you improve regularly, which means ‘i’ is positive, but if you quit in few months, then again you won’t reach serious proficiency levels. (Some people quit in the early stages even when they’re improving because the overall performance is still ordinary.)
In nutshell, if you want to get on a compounding curve, you need to be consistently improving over few years. Compounding is a universal law and it works everywhere, and not just in money-multiplying.
What’s in it for you?
If you’re struggling in the beginning, don’t lose heart. As long as you’re improving – and that’s the key word – you’ll hit the steep part of the curve in due course.
If you look from distance at a person proficient at something, you may not even attempt the skill, thinking it would take too long. That’s a result of linear thinking.