Exponential Challenges respond Exponentially to Early Action

Steve Crossan
2 min readMar 16, 2020
Chart from https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca

TL:DR; as we discovered addressing Ebola in West Africa in 2014, early and apparently extreme action significantly reduces the chance of much more extreme and longer lasting action later. Put differently; the actions you take today and tomorrow could save more lives than anything else you do in your life. What this means is: regardless of symptoms, self isolate as much as possible for as long as possible starting today.

In an ‘exponential’ crisis, early action by you has an exponentially positive result.

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Covid19 is an alarming crisis because unchecked it spreads exponentially, so that each day adds a significant fraction of the previous days’ infections to the total. This is how 1000 cases on Monday turns into 2000 cases on Friday, 10,000 by the following weekend, 250,000 within a month and 16,000,000 by this time in June.

That’s obviously very scary — but much more important is that any measure to check it early has an equally exponential positive effect. Even 1 person reducing or eliminating their contacts saves tens of thousands of cases within a few weeks. Doing this today instead of tomorrow is the difference between saving 20,000 cases instead of 10,000 by Summer.

I partly learned this lesson from colleagues at MSF while leading Google’s Ebola Response work in West Africa in 2014.

So do whatever you can, absolutely as soon as possible (today), to implement the most extreme isolation you can. Where possible, work at home, take your children out of school, persuade others to do so, and social distance *much* more than you’re used to if you need to go out. It’s one of the most socially positive things you’ll ever do.



Steve Crossan

Research, investing & advising inc in AI & Deep Tech. Before: Product @ DeepMind. Founded Google Cultural Institute; Product @ Gmail, Maps, Search. Speak2Tweet.