Always take the doubling pennies

Exponential growth starts small but picks up speed fast!

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When Soren Wheeler was a kid, his father stumped him with this exponential growth model:

“He would say, I want you to mow the lawn every day for the next month, and I’ll either give you a million dollars to do that, or I’ll give you a penny today, and two pennies tomorrow, and four pennies the next day, and so on, for a month.”

Wheeler once told this story on Radiolab, the science podcast he helps produce. His response then was the same any kid — and really anyone — would have: Take the million! 

But if you go with the pennies, you’ll make nearly $20 million dollars for a month of yard work. The lesson Wheeler remembers: “Things can turn out way bigger than you think.”

Exponential growth model in a nutshell: Things can turn out way bigger than you think

His advice became particularly relevant a year ago, as we all become armchair epidemiologists, obsessing over how a virus might spread. It is also why compound interest is famously called the seventh wonder of the world. Exponential growth starts small and picks up more speed than we can literally imagine.

So, the best course of action: Start Early. Take the doubling pennies. Get a bigger piggy bank.