Compounding Growth in Pet-Projects

Compounding, as in accumulated and accelerated growth – similar to compound interest. Can this concept be transferred to music production and coding? In this post, I want to approach this idea to learn if it can be useful to do more and plan less.

What Does Compounding Mean in This Context?

With compounding effects, we are looking for two things. There is a certain attribute of growth, e.g. an interest of 5%, for a given starting value, say 1000, over a certain period of time, for example 20 years: $ 1000 \times 1.05^{20} \approx 2653.30 $. The growth rate is applied after each year, which means that the growth of the previous year is growing as well. This “super linear” behaviour is different from a constant growth, where you would get 5% of the initial value after each interval, i.e. $ 1000 + 50 \times 20 = 2000.00 $.

The concept of accelerated growth is well described when it comes to interest in a financial context, but it can be applied to other situations as well. Terms like “growth mindset” became more popular and you will likely read similar ideas in the context of startups, code development and learning in general. I stumbled into this thought by forming a habit of regularly using Anki for spaced repetition. It is a way to freshen up my knowledge of music theory and physics, and potentially anything that could be formulated in short fact statements, fit for being put on flashcards.

Mark Nagelberg wrote the blog post “The Hidden Power of Compounding (and 4 Ideas for Harnessing it)”, which touches the general idea of compounding something and spaced repetition with Anki. Spaced repetition, i.e. regularly repeating knowledge, may be the equivalent of compound interest in learning. You accumulate a little more knowledge every day while retaining and connecting to the previous knowledge. If this is really equivalent, depends a bit on how far you want to take the metaphor. The claim for spaced repetition would be that more and better-trained knowledge would make it more likely to combine ideas and concepts, which could exhibit the “super linear” behaviour of compound interest in finance.

I wonder, how such an accumulating growth could exist in producing music and developing code.

How Can It Be Applied to a Project?

Right now I can think of four different dimensions in which growth could be found:

  1. Efficiency and personal time => more songs/code per period
  2. Personal knowledge
  3. Publishing
  4. Number of people involved

If I am more efficient with the time I spend on a given activity, or if I just spend more time, I will likely produce more output for that period. This dimension of growth is likely very limited since you only have so much time and energy in a given day.

Growing personal knowledge is making interdisciplinary combinations more likely, such that you will produce more ideas. This very much represents what spaced repetition with flashcards is all about. Maybe this is just a facilitator for more efficiency and not really a separate growth dimension?

Publishing your products (songs, code, tools) is a separate dimension of growth, since now you can grow in numbers of followers, fans, readers, users. It requires some active involvement in communities, but it also enables separated growth from your activity. Growth now also depends on platforms on the internet, communication of others and how well your product is serving the needs of others. This dimension is where marketing can improve your growth rate. Publishing is also interesting because it can passively grow your network and provide motivating feedback, thus improving your personal growth.

If you are working on something on your own, you are limited by your personal time and abilities – you only have 2 hands. But you could grow your project by employing more people. Every addition makes your project do its thing potentially faster, for a given period. Of course, we could discuss now how much friction gets introduced through communication, but you will get faster growth than a single person can sustain.

It is hard to quantify these things for arbitrary activities. You will likely only be able to count how many things you have learned, songs you have published or followers you have accumulated after it happened. Once you got some numbers you can throw more statistics on the issue and maybe predict some quantified growth in a given metric, but your project is likely not covered wholly by this metric. So how much did your project grow in the last year? Maybe the answer is subjective at a certain point.

Emphasizing Productivity and Consistency

I want to take the time to emphasize a subtle point. There is a difference in improving the “preparation”, e.g. learning a skill, and improving the actual outcome. Improving a skill will not change where you are immediately, but it does build a foundation that makes late application of that skill simpler.

So it might be useful to think of compounding on two levels:

  1. Use compounding to learn things better/faster
  2. Use compounding to apply your skills more to produce something

In the end, it is probably the actual outcome that you care about the most.

A second very important observation is, I think, that consistency is key. Similar to compound interest in finance, the effect of compounding activities in a project probably shows only after a long time of taking tiny steps that on its own seem insignificant.

Thinking about reducing turnaround times might be very worthwhile. You cannot convince your bank to give you 5% every month instead of every year, but you can publish your stuff more often.

Where Am I?

I am a person who spends way to much time on preparation. Realizing that publishing is a whole separate thing is useful for me. This is something I want to improve in the future, which is another reason for this blog and Jorchime in general. It is not likely that Jorchime will grow in terms of involved people in the near- to mid-term future, but you can reinterpret this a bit. Involving more people can also mean to collaborate with more people and to get involved with more bands if you are an active musician. More collaboration also calls for involvement in open source projects in terms of development, since these can grow faster than single-person-pet-projects.

Actual Things to Do

To end on some hard recommendations of what to do:

  • Build habits of producing
    • Music: Collaborations, Bands
    • Code: Challenges, OSS, private pet projects
  • Publish regularly to improve passive growth
  • Monitor your regular activities and try to keep them steady and grow your own involvement

Are there other dimensions of growth that were not covered here?
Is something missing to make these ideas applicable to anyone?

Growth can apply to preparation and production. By publishing and collaboration, you open up to new, emergent, dimensions of growth which are not accessible to any single person.
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