The Unit of Measure for Progress isn’t Size, it’s Time

In any system, continuous growth is impossible. Everything reaches a breakpoint. The real question is how the system responds to this breakpoint. A successful network has only a small collapse, out of which a stronger network emerges wherein it reaches equilibrium, oscillating around an ideal size.

Nature rarely allows the environment to be pushed so far that it collapses. Ecosystems generally keep life balanced. Plants create enough oxygen for animals to survive, and the animals, in turn, produce carbon dioxide for the plants. In biological terms, ecosystems create homeostasis.

We all know that physical things have limits. But so do the things we can’t see or feel. Knowledge is an example. Our minds can only digest so much. Sure, knowledge is a good thing. But there is a point at which even knowledge is bad. This is information overload.

We have been conditioned to believe that bigger is better and this is true across virtually every domain. But growth is great until it goes too far.

We often destroy our greatest innovations by the constant pursuit of growth. An idea emerges, takes hold, crosses the chasm, hits a tipping point, and then starts a meteoric rise with seemingly limitless potential. But more often than not, it implodes, destroying itself in the process. Growth isn’t bad. It’s just not as good as we think.

Nature has a lesson for us if we care to listen: the fittest species are typically the smallest. The tinest insects often outlive the largest lumbering animals. Ants, bees, and cockroaches all outlived the dinosaurs and will likely outlive our race. … The deadliest creature is the mosquito, not the lion. Bigger is rarely better in the long run. What is missing—what everyone is missing—is that the unit of measure for progress isn’t size, it’s time.

Summing-up: Rather than endless growth, the goal should be to grow as quickly as possible—what technologists call hypergrowth—until the breakpoint is reached. Then stop and reap the benefits of scale alongside stability.

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