Success is a lot more random than we’d like to admit.
In fact, if we went back in time and changed even the most seemingly minor details — the moment a company started trading, whether or not someone answered a phone call, and 100,000 other scenarios — things would look very different.
That’s what Frans Johansson argues in his new book, The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World. He offers a wealth of reasons to support his thesis, including the concept that “complex forces” affect the universe in random ways. One type of complex force is the “self-reinforcing loop,” which is the idea that gaining even the most seemingly minor advantage is the basis for explosive success. He gives eBay as an example:
“eBay is a two-sided market, meaning that it needs to attract buyers and sellers. More buyers on the site serves to attract more sellers, and more sellers attracts more buyers, creating a virtuous cycle. It didn’t take long before a small lead gave eBay an insurmountable advantage. … eBay had a number of competitors during the late nineties, including Onsale, Yahoo! Auctions, And Amazon Auctions. None of them made it. By the end of 1999, a few years after eBay had launched, the company had more than $10 million a day in gross sales, which was 20 times more than its closest competitor.”
The reason eBay succeeded, says Johansson, is that it was lucky enough to gain that first edge. Malcolm Gladwell would call this the “Tipping Point,” or the “Matthew Effect,” named after a verse in the Gospel of Matthew that says those given abundance will see that abundance increase exponentially, whereas those with nothing will be left with an even smaller share of the pie.
Without eBay’s initial gain, he says, the online auction market would look very different.
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