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The invisible progress of the Chinese Bamboo tree

The Chinese Bamboo tree is a peculiar plant. For it's first four years, it looks pretty much the way it did when it was first planted. Someone looking at it might think that it is a lost cause, that it is failing to grow. However, in it's fifth year, it grows up to ninety feet.

This is what overnight success looks like. Years of invisible progress followed by a spurt of visible growth.

Even the user base of the likes of Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter have followed a similar trajectory. A few years in the trenches, unrecognised, unrewarded, seemingly stagnant, before the day arrives when unprecedented growth is witnessed.

On the other hand, there is the case of constant and linear progress. Most other plants go through this. You plant a seed, and the plant reaches a certain height in three months, doubles that in the next three months and doubles that in the next six months. But I can't think of any product that grew it's user base linearly in this manner and reached the top fifty or top hundred or the top thousand companies.

If you're looking to develop a skill, don't always look for visible progress. Because that leads us to shying away from taking on insanely strong opposition. It leads us to shying away from pushing the boundaries. You might play a master at Chess ten times and lose ten times. But play an opponent that was at your level before this and you will likely beat them easily.

This is why I'm a strong advocate of the thousand words a day policy. Write thousand words a day every day. It might make me feel that I'm making no progress whatsoever and churning out similar quality content. But six months later, or one year later, there is noticeable improvement in the quality of the content.

Don't give up if you don't see immediate visible progress. Keep at it. You might have the Chinese Bamboo tree waiting to come out.

At the same time, grit isn't always an admirable virtue. Knowing when to throw in the towel and give up is also a valuable skill.

A few months ago, Angela Duckworth came under intense criticism for her book "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" for taking the stand that grit is the most valuable of all traits and the lack of success in any field can be attributed purely to lack of grit. The summary of her idea was that if you succeeded, you had enough grit to stick it through and make it happen while if you failed, you lacked that grit. However, she failed to highlight other aspects like someone with rich parents can show more grit than those who have to fend for themselves.

So, take on stronger opposition, push the boundaries and don't give up easily. But don't think that there is a Chinese Bamboo tree at the end of every display of grit and perseverance. It is just that nearly all successes follow the trajectory of the Chinese Bamboo tree. But it doesn't mean that every plant that grows little in it's first four years is a Chinese Bamboo tree.

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