Zigzagging Your Way to Success (Or The Book that Claims to Not Hold to the Iron Rod)

When I saw this book, I knew I had to review it here. 

The Zigzag Principle: The Goal Setting Strategy that will Revolutionize Your Business and Your Life by Rich Christiansen has a tagline that says: “The Road to Success is Never a Straight Line”! I knew when I read that, that it might be the first book that is not supported by gospel principles. I figured that a book that is built on the premise that straight paths are not the right way to do things would fly in the face of one of the tenants of the LDS Faith. 

In 1st Nephi, chapter 8, Lehi sees a vision of the Tree of Life. In 1st Nephi, chapter 11, Nephi sees it and explains what he saw and learned.

20 And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.

21 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.

22 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.

23 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of >darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. 1 Ne 8:20–23

When people do not follow the strait and narrow path, they lose their way and fall into the mists of darkness. They follow the strait and narrow path by holding to rod of iron.

25 And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God. 1 Ne. 11:25

A bit of clarification here.

It is often assumed that the straight and narrow path represents the gospel and its teachings. This is a true statement, but lacks completeness. Recall that the path is bordered by, and literally defined by the rod of iron, which represents personal revelation…it would be more accurate to say that, in addition to the gospel requirements, the straight and narrow path represents the course of life each individual must walk in order to arrive at the tree and partake of the precious fruit. John Pontius, Following the Light of Christ into His Presence

Pontius’ work goes into much greater detail and is really about holding to the iron rod explicitly throughout your life in order to hear the whisperings of the Spirit. It is a great book, and one that I recommend to almost everyone I meet.

Rich Christiansen is a multi-millionaire who has started numerous incredibly successful businesses. He wrote a book, Bootstrap Business, just to demonstrate that he could start a business with $5,000 and grow it into a $1.2 million business, in a year. Pretty impressive. He says that he got to this goal not by going straight towards the goal, but by zigzagging towards it.

I saw that my most significant accomplishments…did not come when I charged directly toward my goal. Rather, they came when I zigged and zagged my way to success. (5)

If we relate this to the rod of iron and the straight and narrow path, it seems crazy to think we can possibly be talking about the same thing. However, remembering that the iron rod is the word of God, we can make it work.

Christiansen goes on to explain the components of the Zigzag Principle:

  1. Assessing resources
  2. Identifying your beacon in the fog (perhaps it is a tree…a tree that grants eternal life)
  3. Creating catalyzing statements
  4. Driving to profitability
  5. Defining processes and adding resources
  6. Scaling your business
  7. Staying within your guardrails (which may or may not be made of IRON!)
  8. Developing reward systems (9)

When you look at it a bit closer, and understand what the straight and narrow path and iron rod really represent, it is easy to see that what Christiansen is talking about is really following the promptings of the Holy Ghost in your business deeds.

Let’s dive into a few examples.

Success is staying true

First of all, Christiansen is talking about working hard and staying true to something for a long time to be successful. He speaks of his failures and how and why he failed:

I failed because I tried to go straight for my goal and then ran out of gas before I hit profitability. The Zigzag Principle is not easy. It requires discipline, hard work, tenacity, and focus. It is not a lazy man’s game. And it is what will help you achieve the successes you seek. (11)

I’ll remind you here of the quote by President Hunter in the Outliers post: “True greatness always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.” Greatness is not a lazy man’s game, and neither is success in business (or any other endeavor in life).

Pontius talks about the iron rod being the word of God and notes that just reading the scriptures will not get you to eternal life. Just listening to conference every six months is not going to throw open the pearly gates upon your death. You have to actually learn to listen to the subtle and simple promptings of the Holy Ghost and act on those promptings.

This is where the personal part comes in. The straight and narrow path aligns to each person’s individual rod of iron. For one person, the straight and narrow path is weekly temple attendance, while for another it may be living her life correctly until she accepts the gospel one year before she dies. She may have been holding to the rod the best she possibly could (better perhaps than some members of the church).

For my pioneer ancestors, the word of God told them to forsake all they owned and travel to Zion.

For us, He is not telling us to do that. He is telling us to build Zion wherever we live.

So, how do we relate all these things to the Zigzag Principle?

What Christiansen really seems to be saying is that you have to follow your dream unyieldingly, but you can’t just set your sights on your goal and go to it. You have take small, significant steps along the way to get to where you want to be. The guiding compass in life should be the word of God, or personal revelation, and paying attention to those things, is the straight part of the iron rod. Paying attention to those things that guide you in business is the straight and narrow path in that area.

Beacon in the Fog (or The Tree of Life)

The second step on Christiansen’s path finding a beacon in the fog. He describes finding your beacon thus:

Finding your beacon is a very personal and individual pursuit, but there are some principles that should guide you. First, you should look for those things you are passionate about and you have the ability to achieve. They should exceed your grasp so that you’re pushed, but they should not be so far beyond your reach that they are unattainable (40).

Sounds a lot like eternal life, doesn’t it? Eternal life is attainable, but not easy to obtain. Most of us can be passionate about eternal life. Eternal life will require us to work hard and sacrifice to be able to attain eternal life.
Jacob 6:11 shows that the road is long and difficult to eternal life: "O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.

Guardrails (or The Iron Rod)

To further illustrate that Christiansen’s zigzag principle is like the vision of the tree of life, he says on page 151,

The guardrails you’ll need to keep you out of the weeds are very personal and will differ according to your circumstances and objectives.

He is again teaching us that like the inspiration from the Holy Ghost, the path we choose is very personal and differs according to our circumstances and objectives. So in other words, the Holy Spirit teaches each of us in our own individual way without making us all have to follow the exact same promptings all the time. I (poorly) illustrated this in the image below. The lines leading to the tree are all the different paths that people take because they are individuals, and not following the exact same path as someone else. A better illustration of that would be to have all the lines identical, but coming from different angles and starting points, as that is probably more indicative of how it really is.

He says:

Some people think zigzagging is easy or a lazy person’s game. The reality is it requires great discipline and control…To avoid disaster, you’re going to want to create boundaries and guard rails, which will keep you headed in the direction of your call – and away from your own personal trainwreck. (Page 144)

I could probably write a couple blog posts about this next point, but I will keep it short and sweet. We hear many people say that as members of the church we simply follow whatever the brethren and the prophet tell us to do, and that we have no free agency. That it would be easy to just sit there and do whatever they say, or that we can be lazy and just follow whatever they say without making any choices on our own. In reality, much like zigzagging requires great discipline and control, following the inspiration of the Holy Ghost also requires discipline and control. Without focus, without determination, and without striving daily, it is nearly impossible to follow the word of God and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. People may say what we do is blind obedience, but those of us who truly understand Lehi’s vision, we know that we are making our own choices and seeking to be guided by our Father in Heaven.

Although I thought this might not fit in with the tenants of the gospel, it turns out that Christiansen is spot on with his message, not that it was his intent to align to the gospel. Get the book and let me know what you think.