Exponential Success

We see the Exponential Success (AKA “Success to Successful”) archetype when the rich get richer and the strong get stronger. The entity that wins today receives resources that continue to give it an advantage and makes it easier to win tomorrow. This archetype takes place when there is a strong Reinforcing Loop that continues building up the power of the advantaged entity. This type of behavior can divide a population between winners and losers, wealthy and poor, good and bad. We find this archetype play out whenever there are multiple populations or activities competing for the same stock of limited resources.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement pointed fingers at “the 1%” of wealthiest Americans who had grown their wealth during a decade where much larger numbers of people lost it. The 1% have stronger political power, media power, and financial power that allows them opportunities that are less accessible to others.

Primary school students who perform well at a young age are praised by their teachers and parents. They become more confident about their ability to learn and begin constructing an identity of being smart.

Unions members that lobby for job protection and wage guarantees are able to grow their economic and bargaining power to continue enjoying benefits at the expense of non-unionized workers and newer members of the workforce.

College graduates who find jobs immediately after college will generally find it easier to find their next job compared to the unemployed recent grad.

When a person begins prioritizing work over home life, it can become easier to get sucked into work as new opportunities open up and bosses recognize the hard work.

When a research team wins a grant, that team is more likely to succeed, and be able to obtain future grants.

When a sports team wins the championship, the inflow of media attention, revenues, and respect enables this team to continue investing in great players.

When two animal populations living in the same ecosystem compete for the same food, the species that adapts faster to the environment will dominate.

Whenever a Walmart chain enters a new town, we hear news about local stores going out of business because they cannot compete against Walmart’s low prices.

Silicon Valley is an innovation hub where successful entrepreneurs of the past now invest money back into aspiring entrepreneurs of the future, drawing more innovation to the area.

etc. etc. etc.

The Exponential Success Archetype demonstrates how inequality grows naturally. By achieving success in a particular category, we improve our condition relative to others. Since there are an infinite number of categories we can create and definitions of success for those categories, we can begin to see how every one is unequal to every one else in some category.

In the long run, Exponential Success can be difficult to maintain due to two key counter-forces that come into play once success grows very large:

  1. Success rarely goes unnoticed. Competitors wanting a share of that success may find ways to have it redistributed or taken.
  2. The fundamentals that led to success in the first place can be forgotten over time, leading to poor decisions and actions that produce self-defeating behaviors.

Read essays with the Exponential Success archetype


Index of Archetypes:

  1. Addiction
  2. Eroding Goals
  3. Escalation
  4. Limits to Growth
  5. Policy Resistance
  6. Seeking the Wrong Goal
  7. Exponential Success
  8. Tragedy of the Commons

8 comments

  1. An interesting example of this archetype occurs in hockey players and other organized sports. Children often enter organized sports based on their birth year. For example, in Canada, minor hockey leagues are segmented by age and the the cut-off date is December 31. Assuming all else equal, children born in the first half of the year are physically more mature (e.g., bigger, stronger, more coordinated) than those born later, in the second half of the year. Hence they learn and perform better than their later born colleagues. This early success leads to better opportunities (e.g., promotion to elite teams, better coaching, summer hockey schools, etc.) which reinforce their early success. This example was discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, although there appears to be some question as to whether he got it right. Here are some related articles:

    http://www.behindthenet.ca/blog/2008/12/malcolm-gladwells-outliers-and-making.html
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/economy-lab/making-the-nhl-does-your-birthday-matter/article1462192/
    http://www.wired.com/playbook/2013/03/nhl-selection-bias/
    http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=657724

  2. Pingback: Systems & Us

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