The Power of Starting Conditions and Perception in Determining Success


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 15, 2023

3 min read


The Power of Starting Conditions and Perception in Determining Success


Success is often seen as the result of hard work, talent, and determination. However, two important factors that often go unnoticed are the role of starting conditions and perception. In this article, we will explore how winners keep winning, the influence of starting conditions on long-term outcomes, the impact of happenstance and serendipity, the fundamental attribution error, and actionable advice to navigate these factors in our lives.

Winners Keep Winning: The Matthew Effect:

The phenomenon of winners keep winning, formally known as cumulative advantage or the Matthew effect, sheds light on how those who start with an advantage can retain that advantage over time. Stephen King's experience with his pen name, Richard Bachman, and J.K. Rowling's undercover writing as Robert Galbraith exemplify this concept. Once their true identities were revealed, their books soared in popularity. This highlights the importance of initial conditions and how they can shape long-term outcomes.

The Influence of Starting Conditions:

To illustrate the significance of starting conditions, let's consider a simulation where market share is determined by chance. In a fair scenario, the mean final market share is 25% with a small standard deviation. However, if we give a particular color an initial advantage of 20%, the final market share increases significantly. This advantage was only present in the first round, yet it had a lasting impact. This simulation emphasizes the role of starting conditions and how they can shape outcomes in various domains of life.

The Impact of Happenstance and Serendipity:

Life is often influenced by happenstance and serendipity, factors that are beyond our control. Accepting luck as a primary determinant of our lives can be liberating. When we recognize the magnitude of these chance events, we can shift our focus from judging ourselves based on outcomes to directing our efforts. While some individuals may be born with more advantages than others, it should never define how hard we try. Instead, we should focus on putting in our best effort regardless of our starting conditions.

The Fundamental Attribution Error:

The fundamental attribution error is a cognitive bias that leads us to attribute others' behavior to their internal characteristics rather than considering situational factors. We tend to overemphasize dispositional explanations for behavior and overlook the social and environmental influences that shape individuals. This bias can prevent us from understanding the complexities of human behavior and hinder our ability to empathize with others.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Recognize the role of starting conditions: While we may not be able to control our starting conditions, we can acknowledge their impact. Instead of feeling discouraged by disadvantages, focus on maximizing your efforts and making the most of the opportunities that come your way.
  • 2. Cultivate empathy and understanding: Avoid falling into the trap of the fundamental attribution error. When observing others' behavior, consider the situational factors that may be influencing their actions. This can help foster empathy and prevent snap judgments based solely on dispositional attributions.
  • 3. Embrace the power of serendipity: Rather than solely relying on careful planning, be open to unexpected opportunities and chance encounters. Sometimes, the most significant breakthroughs and successes happen when we embrace the unexpected. Stay curious, explore different avenues, and be willing to adapt and seize serendipitous moments.


Success is a complex interplay of starting conditions, effort, happenstance, and perception. By understanding the influence of these factors, we can navigate our paths more effectively. Remember, while some advantages may be out of our control, our efforts and mindset are within our grasp. By focusing on our own journey and embracing the role of luck, we can create our own definition of success and strive towards our goals.

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