NOTE: The following is the third excerpt from the small contribution I was proud to have made to the “Learning Perspectives 2010” collection put out by The Masie Center in memory and commemoration of Jonathan Kays. (see previous postings for details)
I run into more and more examples every day of how much our world is one predominated by exponential change and how inexperienced and incompetent we are of working with exponential rates. Hence my brief post below and my recommendation that we all put a focus on this “new math” of exponentials so that we are able to take full advantage of what continues to be the premature arrival of the future.
If you are interested in more background on exponential change and some of my longer standing perspectives on them, you may enjoy this previous podcast (2007) as well as some examples I’ve highlighted in the past such as this one on “The Encyclopedia of Life” and this one on the effects of exponential change on expertise.
Enjoy and please add your comments or create your own postings with your reactions!
Living & Learning in a World of Exponential Change
We have little experience or logical models to help us deal with and understand exponential change. While we have long been familiar with examples like compound interest (and we know how to do the math), when we are confronted with new instances of exponential change, our reaction is one of disbelief. For example, if you fold a piece of paper, you double its thickness and therefore each fold increases its thickness exponentially. So take an ordinary sheet of paper and fold it in half. Then fold that piece of paper in half again and then in half again. After about seven folds, the paper is about the thickness of a notebook and you are soon physically unable to fold it any further, but mathematically, if you were able to do so, you'd find out that after about ten more folds, you would get something about the height of your house. Ten more folds after that, you'd get to the outer limits of the atmosphere. Sixty folds after that, you'd be at the diameter of the solar system. You can see how this kind of progression is something that we just aren't very good at estimating.
Cable and satellite TV enabled two channels to grow into ten, ten into one hundred, and one hundred into thousands. While that was a very steep rate of change, it felt more like a linear rate of change as we had more and more choices of what to watch. With some of the more recent changes, like the introduction of VCRs, recordable DVDs, PVRs (Personal Video Recorders like TiVo), YouTube and TV via the Internet such as Apple TV and Google TV, the increasing abundance hit its tipping point. Today, we have what is effectively an infinite number of channels and choices of what to watch.
Does the concept of a “TV channel” seem almost irrelevant when you can watch almost any show at any time in any place? What you have today might be thought of as a set of personal channels that have just what you - and only you - want to watch. The tipping point of television or video abundance obviates the whole concept of a channel. This is typical and only one example of the way in which the Snowflake Effect is causing such fundamental changes.
Lastly, consider that revolutionary change is very far reaching. Mass production not only affected manufacturing: it has indelibly altered and predominated our entire society by changing such diverse aspects as government, education, housing, clothing, medicine, styles and design. We can and do expect the Snowflake Effect changes to be even more pervasive and profound
It is increasingly critical to acknowledge the need for not just diversity and abundance, but also uniqueness. The needs of every person are different every day as they face new and often unexpected situations: and not just people in rooms with desks and computers, but those on trains, in the fields, on job sites, in cars (under cars!). This applies to everyone, everywhere, every day.
In my estimation the ability to work well with exponential rates of change is one of the top skills of our age and the centuries ahead. This shift has already happened and will itself continue at exponential rates so we need to increase our learning and our skills in this area at a matching rate. I’ll post more examples of both what these exponential changes are and how we can all (me too!) acquire such new skills.