Most people don’t understand exponential growth. It can be counterintuitive and is easily misinterpreted. Understanding it is particularly important right now around Covid-19.
The following eight-minute video is extremely well done and uses the historical Covid-19 data to help understand exponential growth.
There’s a magic number in this that we should be focusing on, but gets lost in the fog of hysteria. The math lesson starts at about 3:45.
The magic number is the growth factor, which is the change in new cases today divided by the change in new cases yesterday.
Right now we have a growth factor > 1, which is the fast-growing part of the exponential curve (the scary green part.) When the growth factor is < 1, we are on the slowing down part of the curve (red). We hit an inflection point when the growth factor = 1, which means that we are transitioning from rapid growth to slowing growth.
However, since we are dealing with the rate of change of new cases on a daily basis, the absolute number of cases obscures what is going on.
Look at the following table. The absolute number of change is scary, but if the growth factor hits 1, things are getting better.
Compare that to when the growth is 1.15 (15%). Note that the difference in the absolute numbers are not that significant, but the implication is dramatic.
When the growth factor is > 1, there may be orders of magnitude more growth ahead of us. When the growth factor is < 1, the most things with grow from there is 2x.
In addition, the growth rate from here has a huge outcome on number of cases. For example, if we are at a 15% growth rate from here (21,000 cases), in 61 days of 15% daily growth, we’ll be at over 100 million cases. But, if the growth rate decreases to 5% (a growth rate of 1.05, which is still > 1), in 61 days we’ll be at slightly over 400,000 cases.
The growth rate matters a huge amount right now. The more we can do to slow the growth rate, the better things will turn out. And, this activity is exponential, not linear, so massive change right now has an enormous impact on things.
If you want to track these numbers, the best three sites on the web that I’ve found that have these data and explanations organized are Our World in Data, Worldometer, and the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 site.
Apparently everyone in the US is now talking about the threat of the coronavirus, which really should be referred to as Covid-19 since there are hundreds of different types of coronaviruses.
My guess is the 10% drop in the Dow woke people up. Or maybe it is because of the first known cases in the US.
As I was going through my random Sunday morning reading, I came across several good articles.
The best is by Bill Gates titled Responding to Covid-19 — A Once-in-a-Century Pandemic?
If you are looking for practical suggestions, the NYT opinion Here Comes the Coronavirus Pandemic has a few useful things in it.
If you don’t understand whether Covid-19 is scarier than the flu, read How Does the Coronavirus Compare With the Flu?
Finally, if you care about money and the economy, read Why a Coronavirus Recession Would Be So Hard to Contain.
Public Service Announcement: According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the American Astronomical Society, and the US Naval Observatory, today is not the beginning of a new decade. Rather, that would be 1/1/21. If you write software, you’ll recognize that it’s a classic fencepost error. If you are a philosophy major like Amy, you’ll tell me that a decade is “any ten year period of time, starting whenever you want it to.”
Regardless, happy Julien New Year.
My motto for v54 is Simply Begin Again.
Today is a perfect day to try it.
If your business had a crummy December, Q4, or even 2019, simply begin again.
If you had a fight with a close friend, call her up and apologize. And simply begin again.
If you are mad at someone, let your anger go. Call him up and simply begin again.
If you have fallen out of your exercise, meditation, reading, writing or any other rhythm, simply begin again.
If you drank too much last night and are hungover, simply begin again.
If you are confused about what you are doing, or unhappy about how you are spending your time, simply begin again.
If you are stuck with whatever you are working on, simply begin again.
If you are having any issue anywhere on anything, simply begin again.
Whether you think the new decade starts today or in almost 367 days, simply begin again.
For almost 30 years, I’ve shared a huge number of life experiences with Warren Katz.
Yesterday, I did a breakfast AMA at Cooley’s office near La Jolla with the Techstars MDs and PMs from the western half of the US. At the end of the hour, we were presented with the above video from Warren as the final word on a question that is on everyone at Techstars’ mind.
I suppose if I used Facebook, I’d post this there. But I don’t, so it lives here for all of posterity.
I just showed it to Amy and she laughed out loud four times during the four minutes, which is a record for her since she doesn’t really understand humor very well. But, like me, she adores Warren. And his shirts.
I love randomness. It’s an essential part of how I live and work.
Today’s example of randomness is the book event for Do More Faster that David Cohen and I are doing at the Barnes & Nobel in Boulder at 4 pm today. It’s open to anyone and we have no idea who is coming or what the actual agenda will be, but we know that even if it’s just the two of us sitting at a B&N together, we’ll have fun and learn something.
My goal with randomness is to always be learning. Sometimes I have structured randomness, like the Random Days that I used to do all the time and now occasionally do. Other times it’s just a random event (like the one this afternoon), a random visit to a company/organization (like something I’ve decided to do on Saturday afternoon), or a random new thing to play around with.
One of my favorite Neal Stephenson anti-heroes is Raven from Snow Crash. Raven has the phrase “Poor Impulse Control” tattooed on his forehead as a punishment for some crime in his past. I’ve always loved this phrase, but use it in a positive way around randomness.
There are endless examples in the 53 years of my life in the power of randomness. When I’m asked about how we ended up in Boulder, I answer “it was random – we wanted to try it out and see if we liked it so we just moved here from Boston.” We knew that if we didn’t like Boulder, we could try someplace else. Another example is my Goodreads My Books Read list, which is a little less random than the infinite pile of books that I’ve actually bought and are sitting on my Kindle to read. My email is another example – the number of interesting things that have come out of a reply to a person I don’t know who cold emailed me is remarkable to me when I reflect on it.
There is an endless structure that is imposed on my life, either by me or others. All you have to do to see it is look at my calendar. So, in addition to the Joy Of Missing Out, I encourage you to embrace some randomness in your life.
And yes, I am very aware of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thoughts, anecdotes, and warnings about randomness. Rather than being confused that luck is skill, I prefer to allow luck to just show up while I’m learning and exploring lots of different things.
While it’s easy to tell people things, it’s much more powerful to learn things. And, as I get older, I see the same lessons being learned by subsequent generations. While this isn’t a post that says “everything is the same as it was before”, there are foundational lessons in life that play out over and over again.
I spent the weekend with a friend from the last 1990s who was the lead banker on the Interliant IPO (I was a co-founder and co-chairman.) Last night, at the Aspen Entrepreneurs event, I was asked to describe several failures and I rolled out my story about Interliant, which, for a period of time (1999 – 2000) appeared to be hugely successful before going bankrupt in 2002. If you like to read IPO prospectuses, here’s the final S-1 filing after INIT went effective and started trading on July 8, 1999.
A few days ago, Fred Wilson wrote a post titled Capitulation? In the middle, he’s got a sentence about the theme of the post.
“Now, the crypto markets are in the eighth month of a long and painful bear market and we are starting to see some signs of capitulation, particularly in the assets that went up the most last year.”
On January 16, 2018 (almost seven months ago) I wrote a post titled It Can All Go To Zero. While I included a lesson from the Interliant experience, I highlighted the top 10 crypto prices, which had already fallen 30% – 50% from their high points a few weeks earlier.
Compare those to the prices right now.
Bitcoin is down another 50% (from 12,001 to 6,157). Ethereum is down over 75% (from 1,118 to 264). XRP, holding strong as the third most valuable cryptocurrency, is down 81% (from 1.37 to 0.26). Stellar, which rallied from #9 to #5, is only down 55% (0.49 to 0.22).
My guess is there are a lot of people who wish they sold their XRP at 1.37. Or, maybe around its all time high of 3.83 on January 4, 2018.
Capitulation in markets is one of those endless lessons that gets learned over and over and over again. My first moment with this was Black Monday in 1987. But that’s not when I learned the lesson. My foundational moment, where I really learned the lesson, happened during the collapse of the Internet bubble in 2000 and 2001.
It’ll be interesting to see if this is the crypto generation’s capitulation lesson moment.
Perspective can be a useful thing. Cryptocurrencies have had a bad 24 hours.
Last night Amy and I watched The Big Short for the second time. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a must watch movie. If you haven’t seen it in at least a year, watch it again. While the events are from 2005 – 2008, they feel like they happened yesterday. And, the cast, including Brad Pitt (my favorite character), Steve Carell (my second favorite), Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling play their parts spectacularly well.
There are hundreds of lessons in the movie. But, like most things human, we quickly forget them. Or we pretend like they couldn’t happen again. Or we justify what’s going on today as “but it’s different this time.”
In 2000 I was co-chairman of a public company called Interliant. The company had gone public in 1999 and the market cap rose to just under $3 billion ($55 / share, up from $10 / share at the IPO). By the end of 2000, the stock price was at $13. I was on a walk at my house in Eldorado Springs with one of the VPs who asked me how low the stock could go. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but I remember it being something like “There’s no way the stock will go below $10 / share, right?”
My response was simple. “It could go to $0. I hope it doesn’t, but it could.”
In 2002 Interliant went bankrupt and the stock went to $0.
Now, I don’t have schadenfreude about cryptocurrencies going down. Like many, I’m fascinated by them and the potential implications of both cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. I hold plenty of cryptocurrencies – either directly or indirectly in funds I’m an investor in. So I benefit financially from them going up.
But I’m not a trader. I never have been. I never will be. It’s not my temperament. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t want to spend mental energy thinking about the gyrations of the market – any market. I don’t want to make money on short-term financial trades, but rather by helping create new things over the long-term.
We all eventually die, at least for now. Some people learn from history. Some people suppress or deny it. Many people ignore it. I prefer to reflect on it and make sure the big lessons are inputs into my thinking. If you want a quick, 128-page frame of reference on this, read The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant. The cliche “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is a cliche because it applies to a lot of things.
My scan of my morning news feeds included Researchers find that one person likely drove Bitcoin from $150 to $1,000, BlackRock’s Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support, GE Shares Dive on $6.2 Billion Charge for Problems in Its Finance Unit, and a very interesting post titled Impatience: The Pitfall Of Every Ambitious Person.
I’ll leave you with this.
In June, Amy and I had three friends die. One was a mentor of Amy’s from Wellesley, one was the father of a close friend, and one was the wife of a good friend of over 25 years.
Yesterday, while sitting at my desk between calls, I noticed an email from another friend titled Thank You For The Throne. The email said:
After spending many days visiting my mom in the hospital, I felt the need to thank you for your support of Boulder Community Hospital. I found it hilarious and appropriate that you were the sponsor of the bathroom. So, thanks for the throne and the humor during dark days. She is on the rebound after a brutal fight and back at home doing rehab. Hope you’re well.
I sat there trying to process that. I didn’t know the mom was in the hospital. The mom is a fixture in our community, a long-time friend, and an amazing woman. I responded with:
2. OH MY GOSH. WHAT HAPPENED TO XX? IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO TO HELP?
I’m 51, and I have an extensive network. I know this is going to start happening more frequently. In The End, Entropy Always Wins was an effort last week for me to process this a little.
But the email yesterday was a shock. I’m still processing it. I’m thankful our friend is stable and out of the hospital. But it’s just another reminder that our experience on this planet is short and not under our control.
I woke up to an email from a close friend of 25 years that his wife had passed away unexpectedly last night. She’d been fighting cancer for several years, had made progress, then had setbacks, and then made progress again. While I knew them both, I’d spent many hours over the years with my friend, so I immediately felt his sense of loss because I know how central his wife was to his life. I just hugged Amy and sent her out into the world for her day with tears in my eyes the phrase “In the end, entropy always wins.”
Last week, when another close friend died of cancer, Amy said to me “We fight the good fight our whole lives, and then we lose.” It wasn’t meant in a negative way but was an acknowledgment that in the end, we die.
Two other lines that always come to my mind in moments like this are “Life is a process of continuous oxidation” and “Life is a fatal disease.” The second is lodged particularly deep in my brain, as a friend told it to me after his child died at age 21.
While this applies to humans, it applies to everything else. I’ve yet to meet an immortal animal or plant. Many of the Built to Last companies have struggled or failed since Jim Collins wrote his iconic book. Granted, while Rome, which wasn’t built in a day, is still around, the Roman Empire had a finite life.
Companies don’t last forever. Institutions don’t last forever. Physical objects don’t last forever. Our planet won’t last forever. Human civilization won’t last forever.
In the end, entropy always wins. Consider that when you make decisions trying to control the outcome of something.
The Shrike né Predator and I wish you a Happy New Year.