top of page

When to use an extra life

If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you most likely know what the green mushroom provides the gamer in Mario Brothers. If you played the game enough striving to save Princess Toadstool, you conditioned your strategies based on a risk management approach. You conditioned your jumps, strives, and ducking moves based on foreshadowing the location of a green mushroom. The designers of the game intended for you to die, consume lives, and insert another quarter into the arcade game. Therefore, obtaining an extra life allowed you to push through the obstacles and take a little risk because you know you have pocketed a redo.

How to make smarter choices?

In Season 11, Episode 1 of Choiceology, Katy Milkman explored the similarities between the green mushroom and the concept of a mulligan on the golf course to build an emergency reserve. She unravels this concept as she talks to Marissa Sharif, the Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. They discussed the psychological benefits of building goals with some slack so that when an unplanned event occurs or a miscalculated risk reveals itself, the team can mobilize the extra resources to overcome it. This concept of building slack into timelines or the budget becomes a predetermined amount of reserve in the event of an emergency.

Try seeing if you can find yourself a challenging goal, and then add some emergency reserves to help you keep going. - Marissa Sharif, Can we learn to make smarter choices?, Choiceology, Season 11, Episode 1

Building slack

In Season 4, Episode 20 of Akimbo, Seth Godin explored the same concept as he worked his magic through systems thinking and the value of building slack. Like Katy Milkman, Seth stresses the importance of building the slack into the plan to allow people the time to devote to the strategic activities intended to make tomorrow more effective. Devoting time to monitor and control can build a reaction skill that enhances your ability to mobilize in an emergency more efficiently. 

And so what we have the opportunity to do as we organize our lives, as we dance with these systems, is to intentionally build slack into our systems. A buffer. A cushion. To avoid the emergency. Because in that buffer, we can work on the long-term stuff. The firemen aren’t really eating chili… they’re using their downtime in a slightly productive way. But mostly what they’re doing is standing in reserve, waiting for when the emergency shows up so that they don’t have to say, “Oh, sorry your house burnt down.” - Seth Godin, Systems Thinking, Akimbo, Season 4, Episode 20

There are plenty of words that describe this tangible contingency. Seth called it slack, a buffer, or a cushion. Katy referred to it as the green mushroom, the mulligan, the emergency reserve, or the extra life. In manufacturing, one would love to have a spare for every running asset and an additional spare for that spare. But that is not the profitable reality in most examples. We would love to erase the safety incident that just occurred. We would love to restart the day with a different first cup of coffee after a disastrous presentation. However, this ability to have a reset or an extra chance is not always a reality. 

Endless green mushrooms

The reality is that we do not have an endless supply of green mushrooms. We can not use the Contra cheat code in preparation for today. Instead, we must align with the concept that this world is out to beat us. We must learn to establish savings accounts, emergency reserves, and the right amount of spares on the shelf to keep playing. Conversely, hoarding these reserves, one can become gluttonous, sluggish, or downright obese.

Best way to a millwright's heart

I have a saying. The best way to a millwright's heart is through their rear end lopsided. The concept here is that most are defaulted to desire comfort and no stress. Most individuals prefer a stressless environment versus constantly raggedly chasing the source of the latest fires. However, if we sit lopsided, we may have a thick wallet of cash on one cheek. If we incentivize to keep an operating unit running, and it is only running when while sitting down, we can default to displace complacency.

To achieve sitting down and making money, you must remain uncomfortable, cautious, and attentive within your lopsided sitting arrangement, thinking about how to prevent the next emergency. This analogy allows you to start thinking about how to consume slack proactively. 

Conservation of sick days

Consider the concept of slack as it relates to a high school kid having five excused sick days per semester. You will have some kids who choose to casually use them within the first month, putting them in a position to accumulate unexcused absences when a sick day is severely needed. Another kid may protect them, waiting to use them at the optimum time. Or consider the last kid who gets to the end of the semester with all five sick days left. They were the ones who battled through flu-like symptoms, colds, and headaches to a state that deprived themselves of using their reserve. 

Discipline of slack

If we build slack into a system, we must frame the intent of slack. Building an organization that embodies the value of slack is not one that calls it sandbagging or ass time. Instead, understand that it is a strategic reserve to forge through diversions from the plan and mitigate the ambush. Building slack into a plan is critical, but having the discipline to know when to use it is crucial.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page