Wrapping Your Head Around Exponential Growth

Note to future self..

For a while now I’ve heard about how hard it’s is for humans to understand exponential growth. Intuitively and empirically this seems to be true but I can’t really reason why. I’ve done some research and haven’t found anything particularly enlighting yet. In any case, it does seem that we tend to think linearly rather than exponentially and this has some terrible consequences.

Misunderstanding exponential growth makes it difficult to understand important topics like climate change, health & economic metrics, and the growth of other important trends.

The greatest shortcoming of the human race is the inability to understand the exponential function. – Al Bartlett


The problem here is that we need to develop better intuition around exponential growth when we’re “riding” it and not just in hindsight.


  1. How can we get better at wrapping our heads around exponential growth? How can we anticipate it (or not)? How can we shift our mental models to allow us to think big – actually exponentially!?
  2. What tools (models & frameworks) can we develop to help us do this?

I will keep thinking about this and report back with any updates.

Now back to work..