"When the customer is buying $200 pants, they better have a good zipper. Because the customer will blame the maker of the whole garment even if the zipper was the part that failed. A zipper will never make a garment. But it can break a garment."
— Trina Turk
Think about the time you invited your friends over for a party, and a dish you had prepared didn't turn out quite right.
Was it a problem?
But did it break the entire experience of having a fun dinner with your friends?
A dinner is an additive system. Take some parts away or add new ones in, and you get a different outcome, but not a binary, win/lose one. The meal still happens.
But most businesses, for example, work in a multiplicative system — where if the core functionality fails, it doesn't really matter what other features the product has. It's still a failed product and business.
A SaaS business can often keep adding new features to the software but fail at customer service, so the customers leave, never to come back. That’s a business that thinks it’s in an additive system when they really are in a multiplicative one.
In a multiplicative system, the equation goes straight to zero even if one multiplying factor is zero, no matter how large the other factors are. So the business needs to be resolving the big fat zero in the middle of the equation instead of adding more stuff.
Let's apply this analogy to careers.
Often, professionals who want to make it big in their career but just can't seem to get ahead are missing one key ingredient that nullifies all other proficiencies they might have, like a great resume, relevant skill set, good experience...
For a remote worker, this key ingredient is good communication. Fail at it and none of the other stuff matters.
For a founder, it may be having a deep understanding of her customers and the job to be done. Fail at it and it won't matter how fancy of a product you build.
These multiplicative factors are sort of your core priorities, and you'd be smart to focus on ALL of them first, before you move on to adding new jazz. Because missing out on even one key factor will take the entire equation to zero.
On a personal level, health is one such factor that can break everything else if not paid attention to.
On a professional level, it's the combination of skills that makes you irreplaceable.
Focus on these multipliers. Because
- A chain is as strong as its weakest link.
- A system is as fast as its narrowest bottleneck.
- An automobile production line manufactures cars at a rate that approximates the time taken by the slowest stage in the manufacturing process.
- A sales pitch is as strong as its answer to the customer's core objection.
While starting out on a new project or business, think about what the multipliers in your success equation are. Focus on separating multipliers (must-haves) from adders (good-to-haves) and put all your energies on the former.
This is key to good prioritization and decision-making.