183. The Most Important Equation In Life
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Pop Quiz: What’s the most important equation for understanding human behavior?
I know, I know... you’re thinking it’s Einstein’s theory of relativity. Amirite?
If that’s what first came to mind, I will give you partial credit. E=mc2 is the most well-known equation, just beating out “1+1=3” by a nose-hair in double-blind tests.
But is it the most important equation to understand human behavior? Me thinks not.
Interesting fact: the person who created the most important equation for understanding human behavior never even graduated from college.
I kid you not.
I’m not talking about Isaac Newton and his laws of motion. Or Max Plank. Or Pythagoras, Archimedes, or Euphrates, the last of which is actually just a river but it fits phonetically in the sentence and, let’s be honest, it’s a fun word to say.
The person I’m referring to is Maki Kaji.
That’s right. The great, estimable Maki Kaji.
I will bet all the money in my Cayman Islands account that you have no clue who Maki Kaji is. You probably don’t even know his equation.
Don’t worry, I gotchoo.
The Great Maki Kaji
Maki Kaji is primarily recognized as the creator of Sudoku. But that’s not the part we are talking about today.
Maki’s lesser-known accomplishment is formulating this equation:
It may be one of the most undervalued equations in history. Why? Because almost everything about understanding human behavior can be boiled down to those three basic symbols in that particular order.
It’s that simple.
Let me explain.
Emotional development is about learning to overcome obstacles. Personal growth is about recognizing those obstacles in front of us, striving to find a solution, and experiencing the satisfaction of overcoming them.
? = the obstacles
--> = the effort to overcome
! = the joy in resolution
In fact, the importance of this equation can be traced back to the very evolution of mankind.
Just think of early man’s struggles for food. The challenge he faced was to kill the prey before the prey killed him. It was an obstacle. A pretty darn big one if I say so myself. Which I just did.
So imagine the joy upon the creation of the spear.
That spear took mankind from “?” to “!”, and with that revelation, humanity was transformed.
Even today, entire industries are based on Maki’s simple equation of "? —> !.
Take the video game industry as an example. Every game is predicated on Maki’s formula: present the player with a challenge (?) and let them experience reward when they discover the solution (!).
The better the player, the more difficult the challenge, and the greater the reward. The equation transforms into this:
Why This Is Important
In his book, “The Procrastination Equation”, Piers Steel outlines an equation to define motivation. It is this:
If you really want to understand that equation better, by all means, feel free to read the book, or just go here, because I’m not going to spend any more time on it. The only reason I bring it up is to say that Mr. Steel really complicated and popularized a matter already simplified by Maki Kaji.
? —> ! is not just about obstacles and rewards. The true beauty in the equation is the simplicity in which it defines human motivation.
If you have any desire to be a successful leader, it’s important that you understand this.
The Motivation Equation
People want to feel empowered. We want to feel like we have some modicum of control over our lives and our decisions.
When there are challenges to overcome or questions to resolve, we feel unease. When we are stuck in unease, most of us are wired to search for solutions.
The greater the unease the more satisfaction we get from the solution. That desire to resolve unease is called motivation.
In Maki’s equation, motivation is the forward-moving arrow.
Unease (?) with Motivation (—>) leads to Joyful Resolution (!)
Great. Now howz about we take a looksie at some of the ways Maki’s motivation equation influences leadership.
Successful Leaders Have a vision
People want to have a purpose in their work. A leader who lays out a mission and a vision gives people purpose.
The mission/vision gives a reason for people to work hard. It provides a goal. In Maki-speak, It provides the motivational arrow that transforms any ? to an !
Even more, a mission and vision will align everybody towards achieving the same goal. It turns an individual effort of:
into a group-think of:
That, my friends, is a pretty damn powerful dynamic.
Successful Leaders Unite Teams
Siloed behavior does not benefit an organization. With siloed behavior, an organizational practice resembles this:
Each goal doesn’t necessarily align with other goals.
But with a unified company, in which all people are working towards a common goal, the above transforms into this:
Successful Leaders Let People Find Solutions On Their Own
The very basis of ? —> ! is that people are driven to discover solutions to their own challenges. Do you know what happens when a leader micromanages? The equation gets reversed. It becomes:
And that, my friends, doesn’t work.
With micromanagement, an employee is told what to do (!) and instructed to not think for themselves. It demotivates people and leads them to question their purpose (?).
Successful Leaders Celebrate Achievement
Maki’s formula repeats itself multiple times every day, sometimes with minor achievements and sometimes major.
Successful leaders are always looking for the ! and they are celebrating those achievements.
So start celebrating your people, gosh darnnit.
Sadly, Maki Kaji passed away in 2021 after a battle with cancer. I’d like to say he changed the world, but very few people know who the heck he is. At the very least he was able to define humanity with such simplicity that even Einstein would’ve (should’ve) been impressed.
I’m no Einstein, but I’m impressed. Take that for whatever it’s worth.
So how’s about we all treasure the memory of Maki Kaji and embody his formula in our efforts to be the best leaders possible.
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“It always seems impossible until it’s done"
- Nelson Mandela