Many people overestimate the importance of the status quo while underestimating or ignoring the rate of change. I say that, in general, looking at the rate of change is a better indicator of the future than the status quo.
Let me explain.
To some, this might seem obvious, but I think to many it isn’t (or at least, many people probably haven’t thought about this actively). This observation was born out of the startup world, but I think it can be generalized to companies and also every other aspect of life.
When deciding whether a startup will be successful or not, many people fail to look at their rate of change. Instead of being wowed by static user numbers (“We have 10,000 weekly users”), it is much more interesting to look at how that number has changed. What has that startup achieved in the last year? In the last month? In the last week?
This underestimation is one of the reasons larger companies fail to perceive up and coming competitors as a threat. It’s also the basis for Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation idea.
More intriguingly, I believe that this observation can be applied to many other aspects of life, too. For example, relationships, health or sports.
A relationship (any kind of relationship) can be excellent at this moment in time. Or it can suck. How you should decide whether or not this is going to be a good relationship is by looking at the rate of change. How did it evolve the last week? The last month? Did it get better or worse? If you have a shit relationship, but it has been getting better day by day — well then it’s worth investing time,
If you are sick currently but have been getting better over the past weeks, it’s good. You might be better off than someone who’s in top form right now but has been getting worse in the last month.
If you’re running a marathon, are currently at kilometer 20 and have had a steady rate of change over the last kilometers, you still might be better off than someone who is at kilometer 30 at the same time, but her speed has been steadily decreasing. You will probably still win.
When evaluating something, force yourself to look at the rate of change and not at the status quo.