Linear or Logarithm?

The article Predicting the Future and Exponential Growth certainly caught my attention right from the beginning, by asking, “How many times would I have to fold a sheet of paper for the height of the folded paper to reach the moon?” It goes on to build on its thesis, “Human beings have terrible intuition for exponential growth.”

Looking in a historical rearview mirror can encumber our projections of the future, especially in a period of exponential growth. The article helped articulate my perspective on why now it is more important than ever to look at the business challenges of today and the factors contributing to those challenges, then create strategy based on what the emerging future might look like. The linear progression of the past may not be that relevant.

I am currently working on a technology plan for my organization. We find ourselves with a legacy architecture that has existed for a long time. Its not that we didn’t realized it needed to change—we saw that need several years ago. The factors contributing to the need for something different include new technologies, mobile workers, need for sharing work and a greater geographical reach of our business.

Perhaps what we didn’t see was how the change curve was continuing to accelerate. There’s a tricky bias in looking back. If you don’t look far enough, it’s easy to think you haven’t changed much, as any small portion of a curve look like a relatively straight line. We have to take a longer-term approach to be able to see the magnitude of change and how it accelerates over time. Here’s where logarithms come into play. In doing so, it becomes clear that if we don’t significantly increase the pace of change, we will fall further behind.

Breaking out of a comfortable speed limit of execution is really difficult. What must change to accelerate execution? It’s not just a headcount and funding solution, it’s revisiting historical approaches, beliefs and methods. The journey has just begun.

Reaping Lessons from the Farm

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

I often hear colleagues express frustration with their work life. Too many meetings. Lack of clarity on problems (and solutions). Limited resources. Being too busy. I, too, feel the strain at the end of the day or week.

On occasion, I think back to my childhood and the time spent with my father and grandfather discussing their farming heritage, working on various farms, or even working in the garden. It seems like that was such a simpler, basic and natural lifestyle. There was always plenty of work to be done. The chores could be endless, fluctuated a lot and weren’t always predictable (weather, animals, equipment breakdowns, etc.). It was hard and didn’t always deliver the anticiapted financial reward. However, there was a natural rhythm to farming, and a spirit of perseverance and hopefulness.

Upon further reflection, I can see parallels between farming and leadership that weren’t initially obvious:

  • There is a natural system at play with a variety of inputs, some of which we control and some that we don’t.
  • There are certain basic conditions that need to be present.
  • The timeframe is not one of immediate cause and effect.
  • The outcome isn’t always as expected or desired.
  • Quick fixes aren’t necessarily possible or effective.
  • Rewards are likely less tangible and longer term than what meets the eye.

Let’s break it down to see the lessons we can take from farming.




There is a lot of preparation.

Soil, equipment and facilities all need to be maintained.

What skills, education and resources are required? Do they fit the need?

Some things you can control, some you cannot.

Seed, timing, weather and luck all play a role in a successful crop.

Be clear on what you can influence and not. What do others see as necessary that you do not?

Learning comes from success and failure.

Observing and monitoring and keeping track of what is occurring along the way informs any changes for the next year. Ripping out the crop and starting over isn’t really a practical option.

Anything halfway done probably looks like a failure. Knee-jerk reactions akin to ripping out the crop mid-season aren’t likely to be successful. Be observant of the conditions for success. Do more of that, and less of what isn’t successful.

You can’t do everything.

A farmer carefully chooses what crops, how much land, how much investment is made and is sustainable.

Be disciplined in what you chose to do or introduce to your organization. What really matters?

Things inevitably will go wrong.

Things will break and won’t always turn out as expected. Have faith, learn and improve for the next time.

Understand what might go wrong in the big picture. What are practical contingencies?

Success may mean more than profits.

The majority of farmers aren’t rich, yet are successful, happy and are the cornerstones of community.

Over time, what does success really mean? Defaulting to money is likely not the dominant answer.

These well-know farming sayings are also applicable to business and leadership:

“Look before you leap for as you sow, ye are like to reap.” —Samuel Butler

“One generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests.” —Chinese proverb

They’re Here

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of millennials in the workplace. An interesting tension has developed as they have become the largest working generation, but their power is tempered by the fact that many organizations are led by their baby boomer predecessors. In roughly ten years, however, millenials will be taking the helm in droves. How differences in work styles, lifestyles and values are respected (or not respected) will shape the future of business.

startup-593341_640If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the work ethic of millenials or simply not understanding how and why they do what they do, take a gander at Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate that, “…millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.”

If you haven’t done so already, getting up to speed on the nature and traits of millennial employees should be a priority for any leader. The payoff will be not only be easing the transition, but also maximizing the talents of this unique group.

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