Compound Interest: The Secret to Personal Success

Math was never my favorite subject at school and maybe that's why it's taken me this long to appreciate the concept of compound interest. Better late than never. Compound interest is at work for or against us whether we know it or not. If you have credit card debt, it's working against you. If you have investments in the money market and you are in it for a long time, it's working for you.

For years, I had read the "1 cent vs 1 million dollar" challenge in books and different articles. I knew what it meant, but never really felt the full impact till I decided to get out a calculator and work this out myself. If you've never heard about the challenge, this is what is asked; "if you were given the option to receive 1 cent and the opportunity to double it every day for 30 days, or just receive $1 million dollars in cash up front, which would you take?" Most people who have been asked this question suspect there is a trick, but feel safer going with the $1 Million Dollars. Wrong choice.

1 cent doubled every day for 30 days becomes $5,368,708.80. I don't know of any investment with returns like this, so understand that this is more about teaching the power of compound interest. When you do the calculations on your own, you'll see that for the first 20 days, the numbers are not really that impressive. From day 21 however, the graph starts its steep climb and just balloons from there.

Application to Personal Development

This has a critical impact on expertise development. You don’t become an expert in a day, but the efforts you put in daily to master your craft will have a huge payoff someday. Keep working and developing your craft. At some point your expertise and the demand for it will hockey-stick and your years of preparation will pay off. Abraham Lincoln said "I will prepare myself for someday my time will come."

K. Anders Ericsson, a renowned expert in the field of expertise development, and the original developer of the 10,000 hour rule said that the key to attaining world class expertise is deliberate practice over a period of 10,000 hours. Not everyone will achieve world class expertise level, but we can all get better at anything we do. If you make the commitment to develop yourself in some way every day, you’ll find yourself improving in the area of your endeavor.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to Young Professional groups at a company in Atlanta. Someone in the audience made a comment about the importance of hard work to success. I challenged his thinking. Most were shocked when I told them that working hard is not the key to success in life. Working hard is important but it’s not what moves you up in an organization (if that’s what you want.) The bigger contributing factor to getting promoted is developing your talent and the complimentary skills that help you perform better. In Steven Covey’s best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” habit #7 is “sharpen the saw;” which simply means get better at what you do. If you work very hard but are not increasing your knowledge and capacity to do more, you will not be promoted. You must work hard at getting better every day.

I develop my knowledge and expertise in 3 areas; talent discovery and development, oral communication (speaking) and written communication. That’s it. There are obviously other things I do to grow and run my business, but these 3 key areas cannot be outsourced, they are the arrowhead of my service to mankind. I read often on the topic of talent, I practice and develop different oral and written communication skills like storytelling, effective opening and closing, structure, vocal variety etc.

THE HOW:

  1. Figure out the 3-5 key areas in which you need to develop yourself
  2. Write out a plan to help you work on them 4-5 days a week
  3. Be specific and limited on the number of activities you'll do per area (max of 2)

I was part of a group conducting a workshop at Suntrust Bank with a group of their high potential leaders, and the CEO Bill Rogers, came to speak to the group at lunch. During the Q&A session, one of the participants asked Bill how he made time to keep developing himself as a leader with the tight schedule he keeps. I’ll never forget Bill Rogers answer. He smiled and said to the young professional, “one thing I can’t stand is when people say they don’t have time to develop themselves. If you don’t make the time, you’ll never have the time.” Well said Bill, well said. If you don’t prioritize yourself and make the time, you’ll never have the time.

Make yourself a priority, and make the time to develop yourself. Select 3-5 areas in which you want to grow, and write out how you will develop yourself in each area daily or weekly.

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