If you want to understand why the future is faster than you think, you need to start with the idea that technology is now accelerating along exponential growth curves.
Take Moore’s Law, which states the number of transistors on an integrated circuit has doubled roughly every 18 to 24 months, keeping cost constant. Moore’s Law is the reason the smartphone is a thousand times smaller, a thousand times cheaper, and a million times more powerful than a super-computer from the 1970s.
It’s not just computers. Once a technology becomes digital—meaning you can program it in the ones and zeros of computer code—it also hops on the back of Moore’s law and begins accelerating exponentially. The technologies now moving at this blitzkrieg pace include: artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, material science, networks, sensors, 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain.
These formerly independent exponential technologies are now converging, stacking atop one another, and creating a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Over the next decade, these converging technologies will disrupt markets, reinvent industries, and radically restructure our world. For those prepared for the change, the opportunity will be immense. More wealth will be created over the next decade than in the last century.
This is a future of incredible disruption and radical change. To prepare you for what’s coming, we’re going to touch nine mental models, providing everything from a deeper understanding of accelerating technology to our ability to harness the optimal state of flow and keep pace with this change.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 1 — Exponential Thinking:
Humans have evolved in an era that was both local and linear. Local meaning much of what we interacted with was within a day’s walk, linear meeting the rate of change in the world was very slow. Today, we live in a world that is global and exponential, yet our brains didn’t evolve to process information at this speed and scale.
Psychologists talk about this as a “linear bias,” but it’s fundamentally an inability to understand exponential growth.
For example: If you took 30 steps forward, at a three feet per step, how far away would you be from where you started?
About 30 meters.
Now, take 30 exponential steps—where each step doubles — 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, … . Now how far away are you?
Turns out, by taking 30 exponential steps, you would circumvent the earth 26 times! That’s one billion meters away. Even the halfway point along this journey is unimaginable.
This kind of exponential math is tough for the human brain to grasp. This in-built bias against global, exponential thinking and towards local and linear thinking means we underestimate the speed at which things are moving. In turn, this causes us to mis-plan.
To fight against this bias, and become more future-proof:
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 2 — Understand Convergence:
Individual exponentials may disrupt products and services (like when Netflix unleashed streaming—a single exponential tech—and ate Blockbuster for lunch). But converging exponentials increase the scale of disruption, now disrupting entire markets and even institutions.
Such examples are AI and Robotics. Both of them are incredibly powerful. But put them together and you have massive societal change ahead. A slew of studies backed by scientists at Oxford to analysts at McKinsey have shown that technological unemployment unleashed by the convergence of AI and robotics could threaten a significant percentage of America’s workforce over the next few decades. Estimates vary, but even on the low end, we’re seeing tens of millions of people who will have to be retrained and retooled if we hope to keep pace with this future.
And these same convergences are happening in every industry in the world. The upshot: None of us will be immune to the impact of convergence.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 3 — Understand The Seven Additional Amplifying Forces:
Converging technology has unleashed an additional set of seven forces that are further accelerating our acceleration. Think of them as steps in a mathematical equation, an algorithm designed to increase the rate of change in the world and the scale of its impact. Each step acts upon every other, each one amping up the next, all of them together accelerating our acceleration, producing more change in a year than our grandparents experienced in a lifetime.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 4 — Find an Exponential Technology That Matches Your Passion:
Entrepreneurs often ask which exponential technology is best to build companies around. The answer is simple. Follow your passion. Select a problem you’re passionate about solving. Make a list of the exponential technologies that intersect that industry. Match them against each other and put some work in order to make a connection.
For example, Brett Hagler, whose story was told in The Future Is Faster Than You Think. A few years after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Hagler took a trip to the island. He was shocked to find tens of thousands of people still living in tent cities and temporary shelters long after the disaster.
Hagler looked for a way to use emerging technology to provide permanent shelter for people who need it most. He realized that solar power and 3D printing were converging and this gave him his solution. He created a solar-powered 3D printer that can work in the worst environments imaginable. His machine prints erect a 400-800 square foot home in 48 hours at the cost of around $4000. And this isn’t a bunker—it’s a nifty modern design complete with wrap-around porches. In 2019, just outside of Mexico City, New Story is starting construction of the world’s first 3D printed community—100 homes to be given or sold (using no interest, micro-repayment loans available to anyone) to people who are currently homeless.
Jeff Bezos is another example. His passion for space began in high school. At Princeton, Bezos was the chapter president of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). A child of the Apollo era and a serious Star Trek fan, Bezos’s valedictorian speech focused on “a future where millions of people are living and working [off-world].”
Once he made billions, Bezos renewed his interest into space. In 2000, he founded Blue Origin, committing a billion dollars a year to the project. His initial goal, then announced, was the construction of rockets capable of shooting people and payloads off Earth, into space, and, eventually, to the Moon—which he still believes is the best launch spot for our colonization of the cosmos.
Wherever your interests lie, find an exponential technology or two that matches them. Now ignite.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 5 — Think Long-Term:
Our brains emerged in an era of immediacy. Our concerns were mostly immediate. How to avoid being eaten by a tiger—today. How to find enough food to feed my family—today. If there was any long-term thinking, it was of the how do I find someplace warm to winter variety. Evolution shaped our time horizons to see about six months into the future at the most.
We have evolved ways to extend this perspective. One defining feature of our species is the ability to delay gratification beyond the limits of our lifespan. Religions that shape behavior today by promising an afterlife tomorrow rely on this mechanism. No other animal can do this.
Yet, many feel we seem to be losing this talent. “Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span,” writes Stewart Brand in an essay for the Long Now Foundation. “This trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking.”
The good news is that you can train long term thinking. Psychologists treat our time-horizons like a muscle. If we learn to flex them regularly, they get stronger. One easy way to do this…imagine your life in ten years. Go category by category.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 6 — Pay Attention To Mash-Up Industries:
Where do tomorrow’s biggest opportunities lie? At the intersection of industries. Converging technologies lead to blended markets. Since blended markets are often hidden from plain sight, it’s easier to get a first-mover advantage in these domains.
Not too long ago, healthcare and entertainment were totally separate industries with almost no crossover. Yet, Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California San Francisco, who is on our board at the Flow Research Collective, is merging these two fields. Gazzaley has created an FDA approved video game to treat cognitive decline in older adults.
This means, in 2020, you could go to the doctor and get a prescription for a video game. But by 2030, it will mean that healthcare and entertainment could be mashed up industries. After all, why just play a video game, if you could play one that makes you smarter, happier, or healthier?
But the more important point—it’s not just healthcare and entertainment. We’re seeing new industries pop up in the cervices between older ones. There’s opportunity at all those intersections—hunt there.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 7 — Learn How To Use Flow States To Perform At Speed:
For those unfamiliar, flow is technically defined as “an optimal state of consciousness,” one where we feel at our best and perform at our best. It’s a state of peak performance, and one with considerable impact on a near dozen important factors. In the context of this discussion, flow is the only time the brain can think and perform at speed.
In the state, five of the brain’s most potent reward chemicals flood our system. This makes the experience one of the most pleasurable and meaningful. When in flow, we see an enormous spike in motivation and productivity—some 500 per cent according to research conducted by McKinsey.
In a world where we’re all already struggling to keep pace—and one that will only continue to accelerate due to converging exponentials—this uptick in productivity and motivation gives us the turbo-boost needed to stay ahead of the curve.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 8 — Learn How To Use Flow To Think At Scale:
Flow doesn’t just amplify our ability to think and perform at speed, it also increases our ability to think and perform at scale.
During flow, the brain releases dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurochemicals boost signal-to-noise ratios—which is a fancy way of saying that they amplify pattern recognition or the brain’s ability to find connections between ideas. The brain also releases anandamide, a neurochemical that stimulates lateral thinking—or our ability to make connections between very far-flung ideas—is also amplified.
This combination of neurochemistry allows the brain to see things from multiple perspectives and across longer timelines. It means we can use flow to see farther into the future and think at scale.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think Mental Model 9 — Learn How To Use Flow To Advance Innovation:
Creativity and innovation are the best ways to keep pace in an accelerated world. These are both recombinatory processes—the product of the brain taking in novel information, connecting it with older ideas, and using the results to create something new.
The neurobiological changes that arise in flow surround this creative process. In the state, we take in more information per second, pay more attention to that information, and find faster and farther flung connections between that incoming information and older ideas. As flow also amplifies risk-taking, it further increases our willingness to introduce these new ideas to the world.
This explains why, in studies run independently by the Flow Research Collective, psychologists at Harvard, and neuroscientists from the University of Sydney in Australia, we see creativity spike some 400-700 percent while in flow.