I spent many years slogging away and getting nowhere. Then I spent some more years slogging away harder and getting somewhere. Then I spent less energy and less time and got beyond where I thought I could ever go: anywhere.

Let me explain. With math.

I’m a card-carrying math nerd. Well, I shouldn’t say nerd. Maybe I’m a secret math superstar, a spy, a secret agent of math. I use its powers beyond what the mere third-grade substitute math teacher can grasp. If math is about as fun for you as pulling hair out of the shower drain, I’ll give you a pass to skip this chapter.

Ah, I joke, but then, I do not.

For you math phobes out there:

  • a linear line is a straight line.
  • an exponential line is a curved line — but not just any curved line!

That’s about all you need to understand. The linear line is constant, predictable, and easy to calculate. It can go down, straight across, up, or straight up. The exponential line is curved although the rate at which that curve changes also increases.

I’ll save you the mathematical formulas, but let’s think of it just like this. Let’s use a simple financial example to explain. We’ll start with $100.

If you put your $100 under your mattress, it will (hopefully) stay there and after a year, it will still be $100. Dare I say that many of us live our lives like this. Enough said.

Or you could invest your $100 at the bank where they give you “simple interest” and you earn, let’s say 5% per year so that after one year, you have $105. However, this isn’t compound interest, so the next year you also earn 5% or $5 and now you have $110. Can you see the straight line? It’s increasing each year, but by a consistent factor.

If we jump over to compound interest, that $100 after one year is still only $105. However, the following year, the 5% is multiplied by the $105 and we’d get $110.25. While it seems small, the point with compound interest is that it’s “growing on the growth.” The rate at which it increases keeps getting bigger.

After ten years, here’s what you’d have in the three scenarios:

  1. $100
  2. $150
  3. $162.89

Enough with the numbers and the math. If you don’t think those numbers are exciting, add some zeroes if you like if that makes you feel better. I’m not so interested in numbers at this point. I’m interested in the rate of change and the aspect of compound learning and progress.

We’re compounding our knowledge to the point where we are learning on top of the learning. Every Single Day we add not only to what we knew the day before yesterday, but also to yesterday. It compounds. It multiplies. It grows exponentially.

There might be days when you think you’re slogging away, that things are progressing linearly. No worries. Then there will be days when you are rocketing out of the atmosphere at speeds you had previously not known were possible.

The best part, in my humble opinion, is when you think you’re progressing linearly — or not at all — but then you’re just in front of a breakthrough. You might not know it. It seems you might be stuck, but, if you’re a true, card-carrying ESD Soldier, you’ll carry on and you keep going. You might be stuck in the mud, but you rev your engines and keep at it, you sway back and forth, trying to get unstuck, you give it one last push, one big pull, you might want to give up, then you’re out. But you’re more than out, you’ve leapfrogged the mud puddle and you shoot over to something beyond what you planned on, even beyond the linear expectation of where you might have ended up. You might even be somewhere you’re not familiar with, but it’s exciting and fun and new.

That’s exponential power.

Whereas the $162.89 might not excite you, if you think in terms of our progress, that’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s look at a case study. Any takers? Hmm. No hands up? OK, fine, oh there’s one: me.

  1. I didn’t write at all.
  2. I wrote every day. Nonfiction, research-related stuff.
  3. I dabbled in fiction. I exploded.

A few short years ago, I would not have said that I was heading towards writing fiction. I was a solid, down-to-earth nonfiction writer who was going to write manuals on, well, something or other.

I kept going. I got stuck. I moved along. I struggled. I succeeded. I failed. I slowed down. Charlie Holiday appeared in my life.

A character appeared in my imagination and I wrote down his story. It wasn’t so much that I was creating his story, it’s more than I was being told his story or more accurately, I was being shown his story on an IMAX-size theater in my mind. Then I wrote it down.

I wanted more, but it wasn’t coming from my own creation, my own brain. I was just the messenger, I was just the transcriber. My fingers tapped and Charlie’s story came to life. People asked me what was going to happen next and I would respond that I didn’t know but that I also wanted to know.

That, in my world, is exponential, unexpected progress and I’m not sure I know of a curved line more beautiful than that.