Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When 1% Is Too Much

Came across an article today about how continuous small improvement can yield large gains over time. There's much to recommend it, but the former math teacher/business student part of me winces at the suggested rate of 1% per day.


Well what does this work out to?
  • A rather unfit person starting with a 20 minute mile would end up breaking the world record in under six months.
  • The typical American earning $137 per day (based on $50,000 annually) would have over $27 Billion at the end of four years and be earning $10 Billion per day at the end of the fifth.
  • Someone currently benching 100 pounds would be lifting 3,741 pounds after a year. Not quite the fabled fifty times his own weight that the ant manages, but impossible nonetheless.
  • The typical chess beginner (elo 800) would be an International Grandmaster after four months, and the highest rated player in history - human or computer - after five.
  • Even the semiconductor industry, the paragon of exponential growth, never enjoyed a sustained 1% daily improvement. If it had, starting from the 386 in 1989 ... by 1995 each processor would be more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer that exists today.
For any metric, a 1% daily improvement rate implies a 37x improvement after a year. This might be sustainable for the steep portion of the learning curve but it quickly becomes unreasonable.

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