Multiplying by Zero: How to Avoid Crucial Mistakes in Life

In 1986, college basketball prodigy Leonard “Len” Bias was selected as the second overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics.

It seemed like he had everything needed to become one of the best basketball players in the world.

  • He was 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m), incredibly skillful, and amazingly athletic.
  • He lived in Maryland, a place that reveres basketball, and had great support from his parents.
  • He had a proven track record, getting two Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year awards, and named into two All-America teams.

There was just one problem. Bias had developed a cocaine habit. And two days after he was picked in NBA draft, he passed away from an overdose.

Today, many sportswriters consider Bias to be the greatest basketball player who never played professionally.

What the tragic story of Len Bias illustrates so well is a simple rule we all learn in math class:

Anything Times Zero is Always Zero

It doesn’t matter what the other numbers are — if you multiply them by zero, the answer will inevitably also be zero.

1 x 0 = 0

128 x 16 x 0 = 0

1,577,404 x 99,503 x 6.76 x 0 = 0

Len Bias had incredibly high “numbers” in terms of talent, support, and track record. But in the end, none of that mattered.

Because as soon as he added the “zero” of his cocaine addiction to the equation, the end result was zero.

That’s the profound insight behind this simple mathematical fact: All of your talent and hard work can be entirely eradicated by just one weak link the chain.

Here Are Some Examples

  • You can have everything working for you in your career — a great education, an excellent resume, and an impressive background — but none of that matters if you can’t deal with other people.
  • Your company might seem impressive — big-name investors, large offices, fancy systems, tons of employees, and a great product or service — but it’ll still struggle to be profitable if your customer service is terrible.
  • You can get every productivity tool on the market — fancy apps for project management, communication, time-tracking, note-making, and email management — but that won’t help you if you’re constantly distracted by e-mail and social media.
  • You can have plenty of healthy habits — get regular exercise, eat healthy, and meditate every morning — but if you’re not sleeping sufficiently, you’ll still have an increased risk of cancer, heart attack, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • You can be an excellent partner in pretty much every aspect — a great listener, accepting, supportive, and fun to be with — but your relationship can still fall apart if you spend too much time at work.

So, no matter what you want to accomplish, examine the most critical factors in getting there. Tease out and strengthen the weakest part of the chain. That way, you’ll ensure all your hard work isn’t for nothing.

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.

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