Sunday, September 10, 2023

Linear Vs Exponential Work

Think about your work in terms of timeframe, probability of payoff, and the relationship between input and output (linear vs. exponential). You could:

· Push rocks

· Roll snowballs

· Wait for waves

· Plant and harvest

· Or try to trigger avalanches

Pushing rocks: you’re Sisyphus. The day starts, you push the rock. Next day, same thing. It's linear work. You may get paid well, but you better love the work. Because that damn rock is waiting for you every morning. If you don’t show up, if you don’t push, nothing moves.

Rolling snowballs: you find a spot with sticky snow, you form a ball, you get going. In the beginning, people scratch their heads. It’s so small. Why bother? But you keep at it. The ball expands. It reaches a scale you could never have imagined. Your work compounds. You keep going. You build an empire.

Planting and harvesting: you're sweating today in the hope it will pay off next season. All you can do is pick good soil, tend to your field, plan, and fight pests and rodents. You don't control the weather. You don't control market conditions when you harvest. A big payoff is possible, but it's not guaranteed. You have to trust the process and hope for the best. If you get it right, you buy more land and enjoy some rest.

Waiting for waves: you’re standing at the beach, watching the endless ocean, filled with opportunity, offering treasure and deadly depths. You wait. You wait for a great wave, a massive trend, an opportunity. Until you spot it, you have to practice. You spend days, months, even years trying to catch small waves. You fall off the board. People say you’re wasting your time. But when you finally spot your wave, you're ready. You let it carry you, in perfect flow, and never look back.

Triggering an avalanche: the strangest and least predictable way to leverage your work. You rely on the built-up potential of your surroundings. You create things in the hope they will resonate with the world. You hope that one day, one of your ideas will connect and spread like a virus. But most of the time, nothing happens. You are a lone wanderer on a snowy mountain while everyone is comfortably sitting at the stove. But when you hit the right spot, an avalanche will roar down the slope and reshape the mountain. Your initial spark will take on a life of its own and, for better or worse, transform everything in its path.

Why does this matter?

What you do — and how you frame it — matters a great deal. Do you work to get paid today or to compound far into the future? Are you prepared to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself? Do you spend enough time practicing? If you are caught in a daily grind, are you possibly rolling boulders right over any seeds you planted?

Most likely, your work is some mix of the above. Think about someone like Beal.

· Looking at possible investments every day? Can feel like pushing boulders.

· Reinvesting profits and compounding the value of your portfolio and bank? Definitely a rolling snowball.

· Preparing your capital structure for the next credit cycle? More akin to planting seeds.

· Trying to revolutionize space launches? It feels almost like he was trying to ride a wave that wasn’t quite ready yet. Interestingly, once solved it can spawn an entire industry making it more avalanche-like.

· Offering a price to solve a mathematical problem? Following curiosity for its own sake and contributing to the whole of human knowledge… one of many people kicking around for a possible avalanche.

The right kind of work depends on who you are, what feels interesting to you, what opportunities are available to you, and what responsibilities you have.

Some pushing of rocks may be required, but don't let that define your life. Keep looking for opportunities to form a snowball, for fertile soil, or for beaches with promising waves. Pay attention. Maybe the ground around you is just waiting for someone to trigger an avalanche?

You can apply the same framework to life. For more inspiration and food for thought, watch or read the transcript of this excellent recent talk by Graham Weaver: ‘how to live an asymmetric life.’ “Yes, it is possible to reduce one’s downside,” Weaver reflected on his investing career, “but it is not possible to eliminate it.”

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