How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen inspired a lot of thinking. The concept that had the greatest impact on me is that of the dangers of marginal thinking.

When Clay started his chapter titled “Stay out of Jail,” I laughed. I highly doubted I’d ever be in the position that an insider trader, doped athlete, or corrupt politician would be.

Here is the book bite:

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When Blockbuster, the leading DVD rental company, first looked at Netflix in 2001, they dismissed it. They had billions of dollars of earnings thanks to their DVR renting and lucrative business model charging very expensive late fees. The late fees made sense because every ‘check out’ of a popular movie was how they made money.

Netflix turned it around by charging people per month and mailing DVRs. It made money when people didn’t rent DVRs! It was making 150 million in profits then.

The problem was that Blockbuster calculated marginal increase of pursuing Netflix. It meant a very small marginal increase on top of Blockbusters existing revenue but what Blockbuster didn’t realize is that this new product would redefine the industry’s future. They went bankrupt in 2011.

It’s not that different in our personal lives. We start on the path of wrong doing by doing something wrong “just this once.” That’s how trader Nick Leeson started out trying to wipe out a trading loss. The path led him to losing 1.3 Billion, bankrupting Bearings bank, costing 1200 employees to be laid off, losing his marriage, and being imprisoned for 6 years. The story is the same with Enron, Satyam, and all athletes who ended up doping.

No athlete starts out wanting to dope. But, one small compromise leads us down a slippery slope and we soon find ourselves in a place where we never intended to be. It might seem like one extenuating circumstance but life is a series of extenuating circumstances.

Figure out what your values are and never deviate. You can’t follow 99% of an ideal. It’s 100% or nothing.

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That is great advice. I have been guilty of “just this once” in the past.

The funny thing about doing right is that it often costs you in the short run whereas doing wrong typically rewards you. That is why the one compromise idea is so powerful.

100% or nothing.

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