If the winners of a competition are systematically rewarded with the means to win again, they will eventually take it all, while the losers are eliminated. ABBA sang about it. This success to successful concept implies that success tends to breed more success and is key to understanding system dynamics in business, sports, and personal development.
Momentum, risk tolerance, and resources
Successful individuals or organizations often have momentum on their side. They have built a track record of success that can create a virtuous cycle of motivation, confidence, and support from others. This momentum can make it easier to pursue and achieve further success. They also have a higher tolerance for risk because they have a safety net of past success. This willingness to take calculated risks can lead to new opportunities and potentially greater success. There is no fear of playing to win.
The same thing happens with resources. Winning usually means access to additional resources: financial capital, human capital, or influential networks. Again, these resources can be used to pursue new opportunities.
From many points of view, this success to the successful concept highlights the advantages for the winner, although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee future successes.
But what is the impact on the system? Should we consider the consequences?
Impact on the system
In business or sports, we can think of different scenarios to understand the impact of the success of the successful effect, depending on what non-winning actors or behaviors disappear.
Consider a business scenario with a positive dynamic that allows companies to increase efficiency and productivity. Less productive practices are eliminated if their performance is not standard or above. Things that no longer produce the desired results disappear, making the process better for everyone involved. This was true for manufacturing chains and other industrial processes, which was good for everyone.
On the contrary, consider a scenario where top soccer teams consistently dominate the competition year after year. These teams secure the best players, coaches, and financial resources, leading the whole system to several non-beneficial consequences, such as competitive imbalance, financial disparity, stagnation, and a lower league reputation.
If this process continues, it could be the end of the football league unless some mechanisms to promote competitive balance are implemented.
This also applies to people and organizations. Eliminating non-winning behaviors—those that are not rewarded—contributes to a cultural change within the system. It sends a message that the system is committed in one direction.
Given the potential complexity, a more nuanced approach is required. Not all non-winning behaviors are bad for the system. In fact, some of them can have inherent benefits. An organization that wants to change its culture to a more optimal one or an individual who wants to develop a particular skill needs to encourage these non-winning behaviors. Change is about making successful what is not successful.