The Snowball Effect

17th February 2020 | Reading time: 8 min
By Rakesh Singh



veryone has their own mental filing cabinet carrying inside their heads but it entirely depends upon an individual how to take advantage of it when an opportunity arises. And through this article, you'll gradually learn how to create your own 'snowball effect' to compound what you know over time.

'Compounding' is a term stemming from an area of mathematics known as 'compound interest'. It is a gradual, long-term accumulation of knowledge or anything that improves ones decision-making abilities.

Read 500 pages everyday. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.

~ Warren Buffett

But, going deep or going wide could be interesting to debate on. What I mean is, should we focus on one area or is it better to have a well range of knowledge? In practice, compounding knowledge is the gradual accumulation of knowledge that builds upon itself. It holds true for both deep and wide learning. For instance, Warren Buffett is a great example of going deep whereas Roger Federer for going wide. But the question still hangs, which one is better? Going deep or wide? As the idea of imagining knowledge in terms of number is impossible and incredibly unpractical. So, perhaps it's better to think about it in terms of snowball effect.

The Snowball

'Snowball' is a simple and general metaphor for something that builds upon itself as the time progress. Usually, the term snowball appears in the research papers. Its a sampling technique where already recruited volunteers or participants recruits new other participants to be included in the research. By doing so, the number of participants quickly multiplies. You can even think of it as a snowball rolling down an icy-hill as a small one, but eventually grows bigger with every rolls; and sometimes it even grows upto a certain point where it could be life-threatening. But compounding in terms of knowledge is not something we should be afraid of. Every new piece of information connects with the previous piece of information that acts as a pillar.

Truth be told, the gradual acquisition of pieces of information is key to new ideas. You might have came across if you're a reader, where suddenly you have an epiphany of where you could apply this newly acquired knowledge and this information, however, needs to be beneficial. Otherwise, it makes no sense to consume information that you forget the next week after its consumption. Remember, compounding equation works only over the long run and its no different when it comes over knowledge. Its completely banal to add extra snow when it melts the next day. I'm talking about the information that expires within short period of time.

Ephemeral Knowledge

A lot of us, including me, are continuously running on the treadmill of information while most of us consume information we don't care about the next week or month or maybe the next year. That's why Buffett focused on knowledge or companies that change very, very slowly or not at all and because the information he was learning changed very slowly and his knowledge compounded over time.

There's no doubt that expiring information seems very sexy but it can never be a knowledge. Here are some few revealing signs if you're dealing with ephemeral information. First, it might be marketed to you. Second, it maybe lacking details and nuances. When we study about something in detail stays with us for quite a long period of time. And third, it won't be relevant in upcoming years or so. This is one of the reasons why I stopped reading most of the news because it maps a false map inside my head.

But wide or deep?

The question still hangs. Is it better to acquire a wide range of knowledge and keep building by working on it? Or do you accumulate knowledge on a specific area where you want to work and thrive? It could be an interesting subject to debate on as people will throw multiple perspective on it.

Warren Buffett, who is known as the most successful investor of all time, is perhaps the biggest example of going deep. He has garnered enormous amounts of knowledge about how companies and stock market operates; or more clearly he learned how to make money work for him. This allowed him to make great decision when it comes to investing a lot of money. Berkshire Hathaway (his billion dollar company) buys other companies only when Buffett makes the decision. But how does he do that? How is he so great at making decisions? The secret lies in one of his habits that he possess: the habit of reading. He reads every annual reports of the company he wants to acquire next and then makes the final decision. He is a living learning machine with a great memory. Over the years, he has constructed his own library of information on this relative specific area at a great depth. That's why, unlike most of us, he is not out there googling all the time because he already has the files in his head. Even today, he dedicates his eighty percent of the time reading something and reads around 500 pages a day.

But some people will take hold onto that we all should skip specialization in one area and try to accumulate as much knowledge as possible from as many areas as possible. For instance, take Roger Federer, one of the best tennis players alive of all-time. His mom made him train several sports along with tennis. Even his peers chose to go for a specific sport. Maybe that has made all the difference and maybe by acquiring all the different skills of different sport piled up and helped him to become a legend of tennis. But thers's no uniform truth to this. He maybe had a whack on his head for tennis but all the subsidiary skills definitely helped him to get where he is today.

So, there's no doubt that specialisation and compounding in a certain area is necessary - sooner or later. But in order to find where you fits best at, you first have to try out different areas to see where you truly falls. That is, go wide at first, then go deep. Buffett found something he was passionate about at a very early age, i.e businesses. While Federer needed sometime to find something he was really good at and applied compounding technique in tennis where he still does today. Compounding knowledge, however, is necessary in both the scenarios. In short, if you're not aware about your passion means you haven't explored as many areas as you should have. That's why, it's better to first go wide and then go as deep as possible.

Creating The Snowball

We all are aware of the phrase - "knowledge is power." But to truly know something, to really understand the concept, to realize the relationship or the idea must be experienced. In other words, foundational knowledge must be reinvested. So how do we acquire and accumulate knowledge in a consistent, efficient and meaningful way. Here comes the tricky part.

First and formost way to do so is that an individual must possess an innate desire to learn and wants to expand his/her mental capacity while simultaneously believing that lifelong learning will pay off long-term dividends in life. By acquiring such mindset and motivation, learning becomes your default setting. To hasten this entirely "new" process, it is better to break it down into smaller steps.

(1) Set the intention to learn even if it is super small like learning one new word or reading for 20 minutes everyday.

(2) Put things in motion.

(3) Develop and reinforce the action.

(4) Absorb into your identity.

...and at the end of the road you meet yourself.

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford

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Tagged : Everyday LearningBetter HabitsCreativity

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