When it comes to mastery, it is crucial to understand which problems are compounding problems and which are the opposite of that, last-mile problems.
Last-mile problems are hard to master at the last stage. They follow a sort of reverse Pareto distribution. With last-mile problems, we spend 20% of our time getting 80% of the results; then, we can spend the rest of our lives mastering that last 20%. Excercise follows a last-mile pattern, we can get really strong at first but then we plateau.
But the opposite can be true for a different class of things we can master.
Things that compound are hard at first, then snowball out of control later. On these problems, we can spend 80% of our time only gaining 20% of the results at first, then it spirals out of control. We then get the other 80% of the results in a short time frame.
An example that follows this proper compounding problem is writing. We can spend years writing articles online without much traction. Then very suddenly and swiftly, things fly. James Clear talks about writing for years on his blog in his book Atomic Habits. James wrote for a long time with a small audience that then suddenly jumped to millions. James spent 80% of his time creating a body of work. Then he reaped the bulk of the rewards of that body of work in the last 20% of his time.
Interest and Investments are the most famous examples of these compounding problems. By 30 years old, Warren Buffet's wealth was 1 million dollars. Then 30 years later, at 60 years old, he was worth about $3.2 Billion. Then 30 years after that, as of today, he is worth north of $100 Billion. So he spent the first 80% of his time only gaining about 20% of his wealth, then suddenly and swiftly, it skyrocketed.
This is why the rich get richer so easily. It's because it wasn't really easy at all at first to get rich but then eventually its incredibly easy not to get richer.
Startups follow a similar return on time investment too. A startup I was a part of had little to no growth and few customers for the first two years while things were being figured out. Then suddenly we were doing a billion in sales annually. We have to put 80% of the work up front at startup's with little return, then if things work out, its all a very sudden and swift upswing.
Knowing if a problem we are mastering is a last-mile or compounding problem is critical to sticking with it. It's hard to win unless we know the game we are playing.