Exponential thinking is really, really difficult.
Imagine a piece of standard a4 paper, and imagine that you could fold it 50 times. How thick would the resulting folder piece of paper be? I’ve received estimates of anything between 15cm and 80cm.
The real answer is something close to 70 million miles, which is roughly the distance between Earth and the Sun.
The reason people get this so incorrect, is that our brains are not wired for exponential thinking. In the past, if you spent twice as much time gathering nuts, you would get approximately twice as many nuts.
Unfortunately – or should that be fortunately? – we live in a far more complex world than our nut-gathering ancestors, and so we are far more exposed to exponential growth.
The trick is learning to be aware of it.