Many people think of zero as a number that denotes nothing or has no value. For the philosopher, perhaps zero does not exist. And in digital transmission, the two binary digits, zero and one, are used to represent all the information in the entire world. Looked at simply, it could be said that zero can represent half the world. Others think of zero as a starting point and the adage, “starting from nothing you’ve got nothing to lose”, quickly comes to mind. I find this positive slant to the understanding of zero quite appealing as it captures the essence of optimism. The Nobel prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, stated in his highly acclaimed book, Thinking Fast and Slow, that optimism is a clear life advantage that some individuals possess over others.
Drawing from that thought, there are innumerable things in life that may be seen as nothing. These can be mistakenly assumed to hold no value until a closer look is taken. Money gives us a very relatable example. A zero bank account balance means that I have no money on my account. It also means that I do not owe any money to the bank. On the other hand, assuming I had a million dollars and a seventh zero was added to my bank balance, that one additional zero would suddenly multiply the amount of my money several-fold.
Being a stickler for fine detail, I have often asked my colleagues how they would feel if their paycheck arrived with just one zero missing at the end of their salary amount. Needless to say, the thought was unfathomable if not altogether dismissed as impossible. On the other hand, I am told that if I paid out an amount of money with an extra zero at the end of the sum then I would simply be a fool that deserved the harshest of punishments. Any attempt to correlate the importance of paying attention to detail in every aspect of life with the paycheck analogy is often met with the astonishing claim that with money, it is different. The realisation that appears to be unraveling is that a zero on its own may appear to have no value. However, when added to anything else, the zero increases the value of that thing many times over. Conversely, the absence of a zero would significantly diminish its value.
At a recent event to launch the ebook Vumbula React that was co-authoured by two senior developers at Andela, John Kagga and Edmond Atto, the importance of tech writing was spoken about. The sheer breadth and stretch of time over which the benefits of writing could extend is nothing short of amazing. Human behaviour and skills could therefore be looked at through the lens of the value of zero. Attributes like being a good writer, reader, speaker, having good manners, discipline, a sense of morality, an appreciation of nature, a kind heart, a musical talent or a great work ethic, all add greatly to the value of an individual. We have all met such individuals who seem to have it all going for them and we fail to recognise the effort put into developing each of their zero values. The opportunity is ever present for anyone to start at zero then discover and harness the value of one zero then another.
And looking back to elementary mathematics, we were taught that any number to the power of zero has a value of one. What better way to reaffirm that indeed zero does have value after all.