Compound Interest, Incremental Improvement and the Grand Poobah of Personal Transformation

The Grand Poobah of Personal PerformanceIf you’ve ever sat through a sales presentation from a financial planner, you’ve no doubt hear the tale of the Sultan and The Chessboard.

An ancient Sultan, King, Ruler or Grand Poobah of some faraway land decided to honor one of his priests and grant him one wish.

“Your Grand Poobahness,” said the priest. “I am but your humble servant. I ask simply for single grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard today. For that to be doubled on the second square on the second day, doubled again on the third day and so on till the all of the squares are filled.”

The Grand Poobah was amused by the simplicity of the request and scoffed at the priest.

“I am the Great and Mighty Poobah. I could grant you gold and jewels and riches beyond measure and you ask for rice from the grainery. I scoff at you and grant your silly wish.”

The first month went by fine, but soon it became apparent that the Priest had outwitted the Poobah and there was not enough rice in all the land to grant his wish. Then, depending on which version of the story you hear, the Priest becomes the new Poobah or the Poobah chops the priest’s head off and goes back to eating grapes and fornicating.

We don’t count our riches in rice so let’s put that in dollars and cents. If each grain of rice were replaced with a single penny, by the time the chessboard was filled the Poobah would have been out $185 quadrillion, yes quadrillion with a DAMN!

Financial planners use this story to illustrate the truly mind blowing power of compound interest. How saving and investing small amounts today can yield gigantic results later. And countless books, from Get Rich Slow to The Millionaire Next Door, point out that riches don’t often come in tidal waves, but in trickles… one drop at time.

But we that’s not the story that makes the evening news. We like to hear tales of 20 year olds who drop out of college to start the latest and greatest technology companies and sell out for Billions in an IPO a couple of years later. We like lottery winners and first round draft picks who buy their Momma a new Ferrari. We like our rags to riches stories fast and furious.

And not just with money. The guy who drops 20 pounds and lowers his blood pressure and sugar doesn’t make the news. The woman who goes from watching TV all night, every night to walking around the block after dinner doesn’t get her own reality show, but we pile around the screens to watching THE BIGGEST LOSER contestants fight to sweat and puke their way to a 100 pound weight loss in a month or two.

Nevermind that that rapid weight loss is unhealthy and unsustainable.

Nevermind that lottery winners are surprisingly destitute and depressed within a few years of winning the lottery and first round draft picks are usually broke before Momma gets the hang of throttle steering her Italian pony.

Whether we’re seeking to improve our finances, our health, our business or anything else, our lottery winner, gold medal, blue ribbon mentality keeps us swinging for the fences and sets us up for endless cycles of failure and despondence. Diet and gain. Profit and Loss.

But sustainable change is almost always incremental change.

The things we do every day affect our lives more than the things we do every once in awhile when we’re all excited in the beginning, bound and determined to fix ourselves

Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

If we’re seeking to make lasting changes in our lives, we have to quit swinging for the fences, hoping to win the lottery and concentrate on the small tasks that we can accomplish today, tomorrow and every day thereafter, tasks that we can turn into habits and habits that can turn into a lifestyle to help create the lives we were born to lead…. one chessboard square at a time.

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Terry LancasterTerry Lancaster is the VP of Making Sh!t Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising, father of 3 teenage daughters and a Beer League Hockey All Star, as if there could ever be such a thing. You can connect with Terry on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.