In an article
about how to be successful, entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman writes that the process of compounding acts like magic: “Exponential curves are the key to wealth generation.”
For example, a medium-sized business that grows 50% in value every year becomes huge in a short period of time.
You want your career to follow a similar up-and-to-the-right trajectory.
As Altman points out, most careers progress linearly. You want to avoid this. You don’t want to be in a career where the people who have been doing it for 2 years can be just as effective as those who have been doing it for 20 years.
Instead, you want to ensure that you always maintain a high rate of learning and productivity. As your career progresses, each unit of work you do should generate increasing results. For Altman, there are several ways to achieve this kind of leverage, including brand, capital, managing people, network effects, and technology.
As you’re applying leverage to compound yourself and your career, Altman offers two tips:
1. Add another zero to whatever you use as a success metric
This can be money, status, your impact on the world, or something else – however you define and measure your success.
Many people get stuck chasing linear opportunities, but it’s more effective to pass on small opportunities so that you can focus on “potential step changes.”
This is how Altman approaches his own work: “I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote.”
2. Focus on the long-term
For Altman, the biggest competitive advantage in business, whether for a company or an individual, is long-term thinking and taking a broad view of how different systems are going to interact.
That’s because a key aspect of compound growth is that years furthest into the future are also the ones that are most important: “In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, the market richly rewards those who do.”