The Difference Between Linear and Exponential Thinking

As humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.

The Difference Between Linear and Exponential Thinking

As humans we evolved on this planet over the last hundreds of thousands of years in an environment that I would call local and linear.  It was a local and linear environment because the only things that affected you as you were growing up on the plains of Africa was what was in a day’s walk.  It was local to you.  Something would happen on the other side of the planet 100,000 years ago you wouldn’t even know.  It was linear in that the life of your great grandparents, your grandparents, you, your kids, their kids, nothing changed generation to generation.  It was pretty much the same.  You used the same stone tools.  You ate the same animals.  You pretty much lived in the same place.


Today we’re living in a world that is exponential and global.  Something happens in China or Korea, it affects you in Manhattan literally minutes later, through stock prices, news, whatever it might be.  That’s a global planet we’re living on. The life of your grandparents, your parents, you, your kids is extraordinarily different in every possible way and we know this from going to Best Buy and finding a computer that is twice as fast or four times as fast for the same dollars as you bought it a year or two ago.  So we’re living in a world that’s exponential in that regard.

To give a visualization of this, if I were to take 30 linear steps, it would be one, two, three, four, five.  After 30 linear steps I’d end up 30 paces or 30 meters away and all of us could pretty much point to where 30 paces away would be. But if I said to you take 30 exponential steps, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two and said where would you end up? Very few people would say a billion meters away, which is twenty-six times around the planet.  

That’s the difference between our ability to project linearly and project exponentially. It's what’s really causing disruptive stress because as humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.  So a CEO in a company like Kodak or a company in the newspaper industries or the record industry doesn’t see the exponential technology coming out of right field and can put them out of business. Meanwhile you have companies going from zero to billions of dollars of valuation in 16, 18, 24 months that are growing in exponential curves.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

‘Designer baby’ book trilogy explores the moral dilemmas humans may soon create

How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.

Surprising Science
  • A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
  • It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
  • While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists find unique "hot Jupiter" planet without clouds

A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.

Illustration of WASP-62b, the Jupiter-like planet without clouds or haze in its atmosphere.

Credit: M. Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
  • Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
  • Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Keep reading Show less

Lair of giant predator worms from 20 million years ago found

Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.

Bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois)

Credit: Rickard Zerpe / Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
  • The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
  • The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

FOSTA-SESTA: Have controversial sex trafficking acts done more harm than good?

The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast