Here’s a riddle for you: a lily pad grows so that each day it doubles its size. On the 20th day, it completely covers the pond. On what day was the pond half covered?
If you said 10, you’re not alone. This one’s not as obvious as we might think. The correct answer is actually day 19. Now, you might be asking, what do lily pads have to do with innovation or technology? Well, this riddle helps show how hard it can be for our brains to think exponentially, but exponential growth is exactly what's happening with both the lily pad and technology.
In our hypothetical scenario, even though the lily pad doubled on day 3, it was still pretty small. But as time went on, that growth was much more noticeable: 75% of the growth occurred in the last two days alone. Modern technology is on the same trajectory, and we're far enough along the curve that every doubling in computing power can bring disruption and change.
Artificial intelligence used to only exist in the far away future of our imagination, now it’s becoming part of our lives. In less than two decades, computers have gone from mastering chess, to dominating game shows, to driving cars. Meanwhile, the internet of things is exploding as smart sensors are getting cheaper by the day and we all have supercomputers in our pockets. In the business world, the changes are no less significant. Will your customers soon be shopping via a VR-interface like Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard? Will they even buy your physical goods or just a license to print them on their 3D printers? It almost feels like science fiction to think about what’s coming next.
With so much innovation, it’s hard to imagine that we’re just at the beginning. As new technologies emerge, workers who have access to the latest tools and the know-how to use them will be much more effective than those who don’t. It’s tempting to lean on yesterday’s solutions because they still work (and because change is hard), but the productivity gap will continue to widen. This isn’t like the difference between a typewriter and a word processor; it’s more like the Wright Brothers’ plane vs. a SpaceX rocket.
Since disruption is inevitable and it’s happening faster than it used to, companies need to prepare for the future now. You need to choose a technology platform that positions you for success.
At Google, we’ve been lucky to be a part of a culture that wants to tackle the big problems, always focused on the long term, building and creating with sights set far ahead. Today, when we talk about moonshots, we mention Loon and self driving cars and robots. It’s easy to forget that Android – the first open source mobile platform, Chrome – a fast, secure browser, and Gmail – the first email service with a whopping 1GB of space, were all moonshots in their day. They seemed like far-away, crazy ideas at the time, but they quickly became tools many of us rely on in our daily lives.
As we all figure out how to navigate this period of exponential growth and technological innovation, it’s important that we don’t just try to solve the business challenges of today. Rather, we must anticipate and adapt to what we will face in the future and choose the best technology and people to thrive.