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Beware Of The Zero

Zero in a multiplicative system
In A Multiplicative System The Strength Of The Chain Is In the Weakest Link

One of my favorite personal improvement blogs is Farnam Street.

In one of the Blogs, I came across a fascinating idea of how mathematical concepts have a functional role in our day-to-day lives.

Let me start with two small mental exercises in elementary algebra.

What is 13455 X 4537 X 659 X 13 X 3.2 X 0

Hopefully, without pulling out your calculator, you will realize that the answer to this mathematical problem is a zero. We have all learned that any number, when multiplied by zero, becomes a zero.

This is a Multiplicative system. No matter the number of elements, in a multiplicative system, if there is an element that is a zero, the product of the numbers is always a zero.

What is 34567 + 4321 + 123 + 56 + 9 +

You may need some effort here. The answer is 39076.

This is an Additive system. Here, how big the number is matters, and when you add a Zero to a set of numbers, the sum of the numbers does not diminish. A Zero has no impact in an additive system.

How do these two mathematical models play out in our lives?

Additive System- An Example

Imagine you are at a restaurant having a sumptuous three-course meal. The starters are fabulous, and the main course is also great. But, the dessert is undercooked and not very enjoyable. So you nibble a little and leave the rest. Just because the dessert is not good, does the overall experience of the dinner deteriorate significantly? Certainly not. Despite the not-so-great dessert, you will come out feeling that the overall dining experience was good. 

This is an example of an additive system at play where the dessert, despite being the “Zero” element, did not significantly undermine the overall dining experience. 

Multiplicative System- An Example

In contrast, let’s take another example. Imagine you are working in a corporate setting. You have outstanding credentials- great resume, great background, excellent skills, great experience. 

But you suck at dealing with people. Here, you are not operating in an additive system. You are in a Multiplicative system where your inability to deal with people effectively is a “Zero” that neutralizes every other credential of yours. You can be the best in class on everything else; it doesn’t matter. You will get stuck.

Look at the different aspects of your life and ask yourself is there an additive or multiplicative system in play.

If you are in any situation with a multiplicative system, beware of any weakness that could operate like the “zero” to bring down all the other positive aspects of the situation. The strength of your chain of life in a Multiplicative system is often in your weakest link. Don’t let it go to zero.

Examples Of Multiplicative Systems In Our Lives:

Investments: You could have an Investment portfolio delivering a 10% annualized return three years in a row. But you have 50% of the assets in one stock. If this one stock goes down by 30%, it can erode all your three-year growth. This is a multiplicative system. No matter how good the past performance, a downside in the future performance can devastate your portfolio.

Relationships: You are great at dealing with people. You are pleasant, positive, and witty when it comes to engaging with people. But you have a terrible habit of lying. This is a multiplicative system where your lying can completely undermine your credibility and render your people skills redundant.

Selling: You are pitching your solution to a large account. Through the sales cycle, you have engaged all the key stakeholders, the users, the influencers, and other stakeholders. They are delighted with your product. Unfortunately, your competitor has a strong link with the final decision maker, the CEO. This is a multiplicative system. The entire sales effort can be undone by the decision-maker, no matter how well you managed the rest of the elements.

Personal Reputation: You have a spotless career for 30 years. You are well regarded and respected in the industry. You get caught in an insider trading scandal—this a multiplicative system. One wrong deed can destroy years of good reputation.

Education: You are a student aspiring to get into engineering sciences. Your overall CGPA is exceptional, but in Mathematics or Physics, you have scored below average. This is a multiplicative system, at least with regards to how the universities view your application. The subpar performance in the vital subjects could impact your admission chances into the college of your choice.

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