Act like a Multiplier, not a Divider

I really enjoy reading anything by Seth Godin. He has a way of explaining concepts so clearly and in ways that can simultaneously scare you and encourage you. A recent post of his uses the metaphors of ratchets & levers to help encourage us to find ways to grow & improve.

At the company I work for, one of our consultant roles is envisioned as a kind of “multiplier”. That is, when a client engages with one of these consultants, it will often lead to a bigger engagement with one of our teams on a project.

Taking these two sources as inspiration, I’ve come to see how I can try to also act as a “multiplier” in my life, both personally & professionally. What this means is that it’s my choice to seek to expand what is possible and to try to set in motion activities & behaviours that are positively sustaining.

So what does this actually look like? First off, I’ve come to discover a few things about these things I’ll call “multipliers”.

Multipliers aren’t obvious

Finding activities & behaviours that can have bigger impacts than the perceived effort that goes into them can be a little hard. Here’s a way that helps me to break this down. When someone comes to me with a question or a problem, say they’re looking for a specific bit of information like a direction to a venue, this can be a pretty “scalar” interaction. That is, it’s 1:1 – there’s an input (i.e. the question or problem) and the output (i.e. the answer).

In this same scenario of giving someone directions, I can choose to approach it like a “multiplier” instead. I can give them some additional information for them to hold onto that will help them in the future, like recognizable landmarks, or how to figure out which way is south. In this case, they have gained something more from this and can reuse it, and possibly even share it with someone else.

That’s a pretty simple example but it gets the point across. It takes a little bit more effort to find an alternative to “scalar” response, but it will get easier over time.

And remember that the goal & benefit of behaving in this manner is to set in motion behaviours that will be positively sustaining, and that will become a positive feedback loop. Behaving in this way can potentially stop anger, resentment and fear in their tracks.

Multipliers are hard

The previous point, about multipliers not being obvious, also implies something else about choosing to take a different approach. They can be hard – yes, coming up with a multiplier can be challenging, but I mean hard in the sense that you will need to open yourself up a bit more and interact with that person for longer than you might expect. That’s ok though!

The point of a multiplier is to engage with someone in a manner that provides some room for an exchange to happen and for an idea to take root. In our current culture, that can be uncomfortable for us. It took me awhile to get over myself to want to reach out to people in this way. But like exercise, it does get easier over time.

Multipliers are generous

When you take that time to interact with someone else, you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable and to open yourself up to rejection. What we do when we offer a multiplier is that we are being generous: with our time, our thoughts, our energy. You are giving a gift to someone, something that may be unexpected to them which can be a wonderful surprise. Depending on the situation, it could simply be the gift of objectivity: to see something from a fresh perspective that they may not be able to provide for themselves.

Taking someone out to dinner is a wonderful gesture. How about deciding to cook something with them instead? That’s an opportunity to share a lot more: your time, your shared effort, your creativity. And, you will likely have a richer memory of that event than just another restaurant.

Multipliers are risky

All of the previous points illustrate that multipliers require effort. One additional aspect that makes them challenging to think of and to share is that they are risky in a few ways. First off, it just might not work and that’s alright! The mere action of you reaching out and engaging with someone is almost as important as the multiplier you are offering. It shows to the other person that this is safe, and if you can model that behaviour, maybe they can too with someone else.

Multipliers are also risky because they open us up to rejection. They make us vulnerable. That’s part of life and we can’t avoid that, but to stop yourself from engaging just because of the possibility of being rejected is sabotaging yourself.

I firmly believe that every artistic & creative activity is a multiplier. The arts are born in risk, vulnerability, the desire for connection & sharing, and the understanding that not everyone will be accepting of your art. But those who do accept your art will grow and benefit from what you’ve created.

Multipliers, for me, go beyond the “teach a person to fish” and “pay it forward” ideas. They actively involve you and require you to seek out a deeper connection, to show caring & compassion, to have a desire for growth and to choose to empower another person.

So what then is the opposite of a multiplier?

To me, that would mean acting like a “divider”. Dividers are mostly the opposites of the things I’ve mentioned above. They are the easy way out; the way to quickly interact with someone in the least risky way possible. They close you off to other people; you don’t share your thoughts or ideas because judgement, risk and resentment get in the way.

When you hold back on offering compassion to someone because of something they did in the past, when you avoid having a difficult conversation with a loved one because you feel that you might not be able to handle the results, when you aren’t generous with your insights and experience because you feel inadequate or that someone will judge you – those are all dividers in action.

Dividers are based in fear; a fear of “lack” and that someone “less worthy” may benefit from your wisdom and get ahead of you. Dividers close down conversations and any idea of sharing. Dividers don’t give the benefit of the doubt to other people. Tony Robbins refers to this when he breaks down his concept of success:

“The third element of success is your state: You must replace a default state of pessimism or anger with one of determination, of will, of generosity, of curiosity, of gratitude. The more we can put ourselves in such beautiful states rather than suffering states, the more they become habits of being and we end up making better decisions.”

Tony Robbins

What I’ve found interesting about multipliers & dividers is that they don’t just apply to how you connect with people around you. They are key to how you treat yourself. Think of the things you might have done in the past because they were the easy way out, because you might not have been ready to face a truth or to recognize a need that you have. I know I have – those were times that I would feel frustrated & stuck. I would feel resentful of those around me that I perceived to have an easier path. And I had shut myself off from the real connections that were all around me.

Taking more of a growth mindset for myself and those around me has definitely enriched my life. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy to keep this approach consistent and it takes work. Even in the times where you need to keep your boundaries intact and use your energy to take care of yourself first, remember that multipliers can be small things, too. A simple smile, being courteous to a stranger, being accepting and forgiving of yourself – all these things set in motion a series of behaviours that will positively reinforce themselves.

Thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this and I hope that it has resonated with you in some way.