Building Blocks – Discipline and the Magic of Compound Growth



The real work is done in the shadows, alone, behind closed doors.

Small, incremental improvements, as you put in the time.

The TV’s off, the phone’s out of reach.

And you create.

One brick at a time, you build the foundation, the skills.

You practice your art.

There’s no glory or acclaim in this – perhaps even little satisfaction.

But it’s necessary.

The piano player may enjoy performing, but the concert is just the 1% — the key is finding the joy in practicing – in the process.

The Fundamentals

It’s not just the practice, but the content of the practice that matters – the true virtuoso is the one who puts in the extra work on the fundamentals.

  • the pianist who continues her daily scales and arpeggios even years into her training;
  • the drummer who never fails to perfect his rudiments–from flams to triple-stroke rolls;
  • the NBA star who throws an extra 100 free throws a day.

The basics never go away.

Compound Interest

Warren Buffett is fond of saying, “Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world.”

James Altucher takes this even further.

One of his mantras is to strive to improve just 1% a day.

Because 1% a day, compounded for 365 days yields an overall improvement of 38 times what you started with.

That really is the math.

If you started practicing for planking for just 1 minute on Jan. 1st of a given year, and held the pose for 1% longer each day (day two would be just over half a second more), by Jan. 1 of the next year, you’d be holding your plank for more than 38 minutes!

Small improvements, practiced consistently over time, yield large results.

Network Effects

I approach my writing in terms of leveraging networks effects.

“Network effects” means that a platform’s usefulness – and value – increases exponentially, the more users it has.

So Facebook is exponentially more value with 100 million users than it was with 1 million users than it was with just 50,000 users.

I look at this blog the same way.

It helps me practice writing (and clear thinking) on a schedule. But it also helps me build a portfolio – a body of work.

This blog is far more valuable with more than 100 posts published on it than it was with 25 posts, or with 10 posts.

Its value compounds exponentially – not linearly – as it grows.

Likewise with social media. Last June I had just over 250 followers on Twitter. Today I have more than 5,000.

But the cumulative value of Twitter to me now is more than just 250 x 20 = 5,000. It’s more like double that – because far fewer than 1% of even active Twitter users have that many followers.


There’s a story about the painter Picasso.

It may be true, it may not. Either way, it but it demonstrates the power of exponential growth through “1% better a day,” or network effects, or whatever you want to call it:

The story goes, a woman sees Picasso in a town square. She approaches and asks him to draw her a brief sketch.

Picasso does so, and within a few minutes gives her a sketch, saying, “Here. $10,000 please.”

The woman is astounded. “You took just five minutes to do the sketch,” she said. “How can you justify $10,000 for just five minutes of work?”

Picasso replied, “It took me 30 years of practice to learn how to sketch so well in just five minutes.”

The Lesson?

Turn off your phone, and focus.

Put in the work. Embrace and enjoy the process.

Because it all pays off.

Practice pays dividends and expertise compounds.

Then, you can look back in a year, 10 years, 20 – and see just how far you’ve come.

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