Mental Model: Multiplying by Zero
Multiplying by Zero is a powerful mental model which will help you avoid catastrophic disasters is your life.
To understand the mental model we will need to take a quick dive into the world of mathematics.
In mathematics, any number multiplied by zero equals zero.
1 x 0 = 0
25 x 0 = 0
500 x 0 = 0
3,560,743,435 x 6,342,432,450 x 0 x 9,340,231,034 x 12,098,234,234 = 0
You could have an array of large numbers multiplying together panning across the width of the Earth.
If there is one zero, even in such a majestic parade, the answer will be zero.
Zero is the great equalizer.
Zero is a black hole which consumes colossal stars.
This mathematical principle can be used as a framework for thinking which will help you avoid ruin.
There are certain decisions you need make only once which can destroy all your results.
These decisions can ruin your health.
Strip you of your self-esteem.
Bastardize your reputation.
In the worst case, they could take your life.
Let’s look at some case studies of people who multiplied by zero so you can learn to identify the zeros in your life.
Multiplying By Zero Mental Model Examples
The best way to understand a mental model is through looking at a case study. Below are two disasterious examples of what happens when Zero’s are not accounted for.
Deep Sea Horizon
On April 20, 2010, an oil rig off the Gulf of Mexico exploded in a devastating event.
The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17.
115 people on board survived and were rescued by lifeboats and helicopters.
The rig continued to burn for 36 hours before sinking into the ocean.
It is estimated up to 60,000 barrels of oil leaked out into the ocean per day.
A government panel of scientists estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil had leaked into the ocean before the well had been sealed.
It took 3 months for the oil to be fully sealed before 48,000 people began the large scale clean up.
The spill caused catastrophic damage to the environment with effects still observable over a decade later.
Millions of birds, 100,000 endangered turtles and coral reef died due to the oil damage.
BP is estimated to have paid over $20 billion in fines for the incident.
The Deep Sea Horizon oil spill is widely regarded as the largest man-made environmental disaster in the history of the United States.
What went wrong?
A report by a presidential commission found a series of systemic problems led to the disaster. Many of these problems came about from cutting costs. The drilling project was running 5 weeks behind schedule.
The cost-cutting culture was the zero in this equation. The disaster could have been prevented if more checks had been done and safety was prioritized over production.
The overall cost to BP was huge as their stock went down over 50% immediately after the incident.
BP has taken a major hit in their reputation because of the incident which undoubtedly crippled the company’s growth.
During the early 2000s, WWE superstar Chris Benoit was one of the most beloved and talented wrestlers on the roster.
Benoit held 22 championships between several different wrestling organizations including WWF, WWE, WCW, ECW, etc.
Benoit had a thriving wrestling career which spanned over the course of 22 years.
He was clearly destined to enter the hall of fame…
If it hadn’t been for the events of June 25th, 2007.
On that fateful day, police entered Benoit’s home after he had reportedly missed a weekend event (uncharacteristic of him).
It was discovered over a 3-day period Benoit had killed his wife and 7-year-old son before eventually committing suicide.
Benoit’s wife was bound before being killed. His son was drugged with Xanax (supposedly not to feel pain) before being strangled.
Benoit then hung himself with the pulleys of his lat-pull down gym machine.
What went wrong?
The toxicology report indicated no drugs in Benoit’s system could have explained his behaviour.
To this day, his motives are still unclear.
His father believed years of trauma to his brain from wrestling collisions could have led to the shocking actions.
An examination of Benoit’s brain done by neurosurgeon Julian Bailes showed that,
“Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged, it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.”
Benoit’s actions could have been the result of mental health issues or drug abuse or some other unknown motive.
But one thing is for sure.
His actions were the zero for his legacy.
Many people will never look past his tragic downfall.
When people think of Chris Benoit, they think of the double murder suicide not his finishing move the ‘Crippler Crossface’.
The 22 years of wrestling prowess is tainted for many but the most dedicated fans of Benoit.
After the details of the murders came out, WWE made the decision to remove nearly all mention of Benoit’s name from their website.
They stopped mentioning him in future broadcasts.
They essentially disowned him and buried his history.
How to Use The Multiplying By Zero Mental Model
Look at your life and think about the hidden zeros you have been ignoring.
Do you drive after drinking a few beers at a party?
Do you occasionally take an illicit drug or two?
Perhaps you have a mistress?
How about your career?
Are you taking shortcuts your boss will be upset about?
Are you having a secret affair with a subordinate?
Are you stealing money from the company?
In business, are you using someone else’s copyrighted material?
Are you not declaring income to avoid paying taxes?
How about the cheap labour you are paying below minimum wage?
There are a lot of Zeros you need to avoid in life.
Some Zeros are more obvious than others.
A good mental exercise for identifying Zeros is to learn from the failures of others.
Look at any area of your life and consider how others who came before you failed.
Take note of what they did and avoid it.
Maybe you are using the bench press at the gym and feel compelled to use the ‘suicide grip’ over the conventional grip.
You want to do it because it looks so damn cool.
You have seen people in prison workout videos doing it and are ready to join the fun.
Before committing to this new way of holding the bar, it might be prudent to consider the amount of people who have literally died from this grip.
The lost souls whose sweaty hands made the bar slip and crush their chests.
You will quickly realize benching that way is a potential Zero and probably not worth the risk.
Levels of Zero
In additive systems a zero does not lead to complete annihilation.
1+1+1+1+1 x 0 = 4
In the case above 0 is only removing the last 1 in the series (remember BODMAS!)
In a multiplicative system the whole thing crumbles.
1 x 2 x 3 x4 x 5 x 0 = 0
Most Zeros in your life are like those of additive systems – they won’t kill you but will set you back.
Swearing at your boss will get you fired but you will likely find another job.
Some Zeros are like those of multiplicative systems – they will kill you and your reputation.
You jump out of a 20-storey building and you WILL die.
The key is to identify as many multiplicative Zeros as you can and steer clear of them.
You won’t be able to avoid everything, but you can drastically improve your chances of success in any endeavour through this simple mental model.