Multiplying by Zero: A Mental Model to Avoid Disaster

What’s the most important action to take right now?

It’s a key question that 1,000 of productivity systems have sprung up to solve. Multiplying by zero is no exception. Find out how this simple mental model can help you avoid and fix potentially catastrophic issues.

Sketchnote for the mental model of multiplying by zero

What is the Multiplying by Zero Mental Model?

In maths, whatever you multiply by zero still produces zero. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 or 1,879,334,082, you’ll still get zero.

This can happen in other areas of life as well. Sometimes there’s a key issue that negates any other effects. For example, imagine running an advertising campaign but the website is broken. It doesn’t matter how good the ads are, no one will buy anything.

An ad on social media, multiplied by a 404 page leads to zero revenue, illustrating the concept of multiplying by zero.

The lesson, then, is to solve this factor before you address anything else.

But this mental model isn’t just about fixing what is broken, it’s also about avoiding disaster.

How to avoid disaster by not multiplying by zero

There are some outcomes that can negate everything else we do.

Take drunk driving for example.

You might drive home safely and no one would ever know. Or, you might get pulled over, have your license taken away and be ostracised by your social group. Worse still, you might get involved in a fatal accident.

Some mental models might make it seem like this is a risk you could take. Multiplying by Zero says we should never take that risk.

No Zero days

One last idea to consider is “no zero days”.

In this system, instead of seeking to maximise each day, you just aim to avoid a “zero day”.

If you make some contribution towards a goal (health, business, personal development) you will have moved forward, even if you didn’t make a big contribution on this day.

An illustration of the concept of no zero days, by adding a small contribution every day, it adds up.

This takes advantage of the compounding effect to produce unbelievable benefits in the long run.

Never multiply by zero

The mental model of multiplying by zero helps us fix the right issues, and prevent disasters. By identifying the breakdowns in systems and risks in our lives we can ensure we are growing each day and don’t negate everything we do.

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