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Exponentials Go Mainstream 

For the last ten years, Salim and I have lived our lives based on the concept of exponentials… exponential growth, exponential thinking, Salim’s book is called Exponential Organizations! The idea of exponential everything was something that came to dominate our lives and thinking in Silicon Valley, but it was far from part of the daily flow of our conversations. 

As we started to see signs that Covid-19 was not just going to be a news story from China or Italy, we were coming to realize that Covid was about to start disrupting our lives here at home. We quickly became glued to the news, and for the first time since our years in Silicon Valley, the discussion about exponential growth was everywhere. There was no way to talk about the potential spread of the Coronavirus without looking at an exponential growth curve. It’s when the growth pattern hits the knee of the curve that we need to start paying attention.

With the arrival of the pandemic, exponentials were now becoming mainstream. Covid-19 cases were growing rapidly in communities where the virus had landed. In industry,  we would see some businesses in the world leap forward while others were spinning backwards or freezing. 

Milan grew up hearing us talk about Exponentials, but I was blown away when I found myself reading about how kids were learning to understand exponential growth in a chapter book he came home with from school. The book is called Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Eric Walters writes it for middle schoolers about middle schoolers. (You may be humming the tune to the Police song with that title.) Milan was now engaged in the conversation of exponential growth with me at bedtime and with his class in school!  

The book tells a story about COVID-19 while explaining many terminologies that might be difficult for young readers to understand. Woven into the story are questions and topics like what exactly is “flattening the curve?” What does having an “exponential number of cases” mean, and what is “exponential transmission”? And many more. These concepts are even tricky for some adults to visualize.

The book captures the current experiences of many young people around the world who, due to COVID-19, are unable to go to school and hang out with friends. The book also instills hope and optimism about how our communities have come together to support one another from a safe distance.

What an excellent conversation starter. Covid has accelerated learning while we many of us remain home.