It’s frequently said that success tends to breed success. Whether this is down to skill or not however is slightly more open for debate. On the one hand you may argue that the behaviours that deliver success in one instance are likely to be those that may do so on further occasions. A counter argument is that people can often exhibit hurd like behaviour, and can therefore follow into something merely because others are doing so. Whilst this approach may well deliver sustained results, it’s hard to reason that they are down to any skill from the lucky recipient.
The trajectory of success was the focus of a recent study conducted by researchers from UCL and Stonybrook University. Rather than engage in a purely intellectual exploration, the researchers wanted to conduct a series of live experiments in the field. It just so happened that one of the fields they chose, was that of crowdfunding via Kickstarter.
The researchers selected 1-200 new and unfunded projects on the website, and monitored their level of funding over a period of time. The Kickstarter experiment saw campaigns given an arbitrary amount of money from a backer (with some given none). The researchers found that those who had been given the arbitrary donation were twice as likely to receive further contributions as those who had received funding via standard routes, with just 39% of those without initial backing securing future donations compared to 70% of those that did.
These findings were replicated in other fields. For instance, on the petition website Change.org, it was found that randomly granting a dozen signatures to a petition led to that project garnering more subsequent endorsements than those without this initial push. A similar outcome emerged on the review site epinions.com.
Lead author on the paper, Dr Arnout van de Rijt (Institute for Advanced Computational Science, Stony Brook University, USA) said: “Theoretically, it’s hard to see if the ‘success breeds success’ effect exists – it could be that it reflects genuine ability. To tease out where the success comes from, we did experiments that gave artificial help to some people and not others.
“In real-life environments, we gave success to some people in the form of a donation, ideological support, an endorsement or high status and found that these arbitrarily favoured people were more successful at the end than others not given this preferred treatment.”
Interestingly, it emerged that the volume of this initial support was not proportionate to the boost received from it. The researchers found that a small initial backing was just as effective as a much larger show of support.
Dr Soong Moon Kang (UCL Management Science & Innovation, UK) said: “Our research has implications for the success of initiatives to counter inequality and create a more meritocratic society. It also suggests that these don’t need to be big or costly to help: it’s the initial boost that matters. We also find that interventions have much more effect on those coming from very little.”
The findings are perhaps not that surprising. Only last year I wrote about an MIT study that explored the social proof of blog comments. It found that when a positive comment was left on an article, there was a 32% higher chance that the following comment would also be positive. What’s more, a positive initial comment was also 25% more likely to result in an overall positive review of the article by all readers.Original post