Achieve Your Dreams by Learning About Paper Folding

How many times do you have to fold a piece of paper 0.1 Millimeters thick, to reach the moon? What would you say? 100, 1000, 10.000? And how come this answer have a strong relationship to your ability to learn, grow and be successful? You can either take the calculator out and do the math or watch the rest of the video to find out… The answer might surprise you.

Exponential Growth and Rice

There’s a famous legend about the origin of chess my father used to tell me which might give you a hint:

When the inventor of the game showed it to the emperor of India, the emperor was so impressed by the new game, that he said to the man “Name your reward!”

The man responded, “Oh emperor, my wishes are simple. I only wish for this. Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.”

The emperor agreed, amazed that the man had asked for such a small reward – or so he thought. After a week, his treasurer came back and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum, far greater than all the rice that could conceivably be produced in many many centuries! Namely, eighteen quintillion, four hundred forty six quadrillion, seven hundred forty four trillion , seventy three billion ,seven hundred nine million , five hundred fifty one thousand , six hundred fifteen grains of rice. In that moment, the king decided to kill the inventor.

Maybe I added the killing part – just to add a bit of flavor to the story, you know?

If the end didn’t catch you off-guard, I can guess you probably knew it beforehand. But for the ones like me that didn’t, the story is outstanding, almost illogical. And the reason is that as humans we are not used to think exponentially.

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Exponential What?

If you were to take 30 linear steps, you’d end up approximately 30 meters away from where you started. But if I said to you take 30 exponential steps – imagining that’s possible – 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 linear and exponential growth.

Peter Diamandis likes to say that we are not used to thinking in exponential terms because of hundreds of thousands of years of living in local and linear. I walk 1 step, I move one meter, I walk 2 steps, I move two meters. I work for an hour, I earn 20 bucks, I work for two, I earn 40 and so on – everything seems to be linear. But in my opinion, that’s half of the story…

It’s not that exponential growth does not exist in our world or personal lives– there are plenty of examples around us. Populations, companies, GDP,  the cells in your body, innovation, complexity, epidemics, users on an app, skill, all grow exponentially. The true reason why we are not really aware of it is that it takes time to build momentum and see actual results – and in terms of our personal lives, it takes patience.

To The Moon and Back!

Let’s get back to our question about the folding paper and the moon. If we manage to fold the paper 10 times, its length will be 10 cm. If we could do it 10 more times? 100 meters. And to reach the moon, we would need to fold the paper only 42 times (which is 440.000 km).

If the paper was sentient, after the 10th fold he would have said he’s tired and there’s no way he will make it to the moon – thus, quitting. Which is what most of us do. But if the paper, or the person folding it, understood exponential growth, he would’ve realized he was ¼ of the road instead of thousands of kilometers away.

This natural inability to grasp exponential growth – in the world and in our lives – becomes even more dangerous when it’s mixed with our inability to see far into the future.

We were raised to believe that if something we are doing doesn’t produce results in a few weeks or months, it doesn’t work – and we just move to the next best thing.

But since long lasting and meaningful results takes time, we end up quitting before true results happen and true growth and transformation is never accomplished.  

Your Life and Exponential Growth

Just as we underestimate how quickly a folding paper can expand, we underestimate how much we can grow, transform, and accomplish in 5, 10 or 20 years.

And how could we not? Our blindness around exponential growth is mixed with our ever-increasing short-termism and inability to project far into the future.

  • We start training and quit going to the gym after 1 year because we don’t see results.
  • We start our own company, with our grand vision of changing the world but we abandon it 2 years later because we are not making enough money to pay rent.
  • We start meditating but stop doing it after some months since we are not feeling happier or calmer.
  • We practice an instrument for 6 months but quit entirely because we don’t see the progress we were expecting.

Start, quit, start, quit, start, quit. And then we ask what’s wrong with ourselves, or why we cannot accomplish what others seem to easily do.

We are giving up too fast.

What would’ve happened if Einstein quit before discovering The Theory of Relativity, or Edison before inventing the light-bulb. Imagine Buddha standing up after a couple of hours of meditating because his ass hurt, therefore giving up before attaining Enlightenment, or Bill Gates before making Microsoft successful.

And the answer is nothing. Nothing would have happened. The majority of people would’ve quit and moved on. But you know what? They didn’t – they kept pushing, training, studying, experimenting, failing, growing, and changing, little by little. Until one day, after thousands of missed attempts and meaningless victories, countless tries and hundreds of misfortunes, they made it. Because they stuck with it even though times were bad, asses hurt, and mind numbed.

In Conclusion

Each and every successful person was aware of how exponential growth works, and just how folding a paper seems like it will never reach the moon, the work you are doing today might not look like the success you imagine – not even close. But you must keep pushing, because math is playing on your side.

So, think twice when you are about to quit the gym, or give up on your dream business, or stop meditating, because you never know how much you accomplish until you do, or how close you are to make it, until you do.

And – As Francis of Assisi said:

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

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