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Multiplying By Zero
By Juan Carlos
Anything multiplied by zero is zero. In a multiplicative system, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
To illustrate, here are a few equations:
- 1 x 0 = 0
- 34 x 434 x 0 = 0
- 1,003 x 8,906 x 0 = 0
Regardless of how big the numbers are, the result is always zero if you multiply them by zero.
This rule in mathematics is valid in life as well.
Why Use It
Outcomes of almost any kind depend on two systems: additive and multiplicative ones.
Additive systems add to one another and create a result. The number is often greater than zero, and any zeroes in the sequence won’t negate the others.
This system is forgiving:
- 1 + 1 = 2
- 1 + 1 + 0 = 2
- 1 + 7,000 + 0 = 7,001
An example of an additive system is cooking dinner. You might choose to create a pasta dish and find that you’re missing peppers, a key ingredient half way through. But you have everything else, so forgoing the peppers, which would count as a zero, doesn’t take away the fact that you made pasta and were able to serve dinner (Pasta + Sauce + Cheese = Dinner). Could dinner have been a bit tastier with those peppers? Sure, but the meal is edible and filling.
Conversely, in a multiplicative system, the addition of zero is catastrophic because everything is interdependent. When a zero is present, the equation results in a zero.
A lauded professional cyclist may, for example, win the Tour De France seven times, but after finding they used performance-enhancing drugs, they are stripped of all their titles.
Practicing x Winning Tours x Performance Enhancing Drugs = No Tour De France Titles
The use of drugs is zero, and the result is having earned none of the titles.
When to Use It
Observe and discover whether you are dealing with an additive or multiplicative system.
For example, businesses tend to be run as an additive system when many of them are multiplicative. A flagship product line might result from years of innovation, but the contact center delivers a horrible customer experience. As a result, the customer leaves and never returns, even though the product was best-in-class.
All the labor, strategy, execution, distribution, and marketing were ruined by a weak link in the chain — lousy customer service.
How to Use It
In multiplicative systems, you must seek out any zeroes before they do irreparable damage.
For a higher-stakes scenario, let’s consider an oil rig. Generally, we know how to build safe equipment to drill offshore, but it requires constant maintenance and adherence to protocols. The weakest link on oil rigs is often unsafe drilling procedures and insufficient maintenance — human error.
When an oil rig explodes, it can have a disastrous environmental impact and is potentially life-threatening for employees. So, it’s in the company’s best interest to ensure these events never occur.
Multiplying by zero can also apply to your aspirations. Say you’re trying to write a book after work hours. You get ideas, research, and plan every day, but you have no energy left by the end of the day. So, the blank page continues to stare out you. That motivation is the zero in the equation that you’ll need to resolve before making progress.
How to Misuse It
Multiplicative systems illustrate where a problem might be lying under the surface. While it can illuminate issues overlooked, it isn’t a solution in itself.
Consider some of the systems around you that are either additive or multiplicative.
By learning more about what is at risk, you can assess how important it is to fix specific problems. Sometimes the weakest link is destructive and requires an immediate solution.
Try focusing on a personal goal where a zero in the equation might be holding you back.
Where it Came From
Babylonians are the first civilization known to have used a multiplicative system 4,000 years ago. However, today’s system we are more familiar with is Chinese from 305 BC, which uses base 10.
Unlock Clear Thinking
Fueled by a passion for storytelling and excitement for life design, I find joy in reframing narratives to illuminate paths toward fulfillment. My experience spans high-growth startups, filmmaking, and social impact, culminating in my authorship of “Mind Guide: 49 Mental Models for Effective Decision Making.” Through mentoring and coaching, I guide teams and individuals to discover purpose and cultivate a meaningful life.
I started in film, directing award-winning features such as ‘Know How’ and ‘Second Skin.’ These cinematic endeavors earned me recognition and allowed me to serve as a spokesperson for Adobe. I founded the White Roof Project, a grassroots climate activism campaign that mitigated the urban heat island effect and spurred community-led social change.
I carried my storytelling skills and passion for societal transformation as I transitioned into the startup ecosystem. Initially, I contributed to social impact apps, converting complex issues into accessible solutions. This early experience laid a foundation for my later work, where I led the development of groundbreaking products within high-growth startups. My work has underscored the potential of technology to innovate industries and amplify the quality of human life.