Cumulative Advantage. With Culture Nobody Ever Knows What Will Work.
Why are professional editors, studio executives and talent managers, many of whom have a lifetime of experience in their businesses, so bad at predicting which of their many potential projects will make it big. How could it be that industry executives rejected, passed over, or even disparaged smash hits like Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Beatles, even as many of their most confident bets turned out to be flops? Because with culture no one knows what works. According to New York Times, recent research, suggests that reliable hit prediction is impossible no matter how much you know. The common-sense view makes a big assumption: that when people make decisions about what they like, they do so independently of one another. But people almost never make decisions independently — in part because the world abounds with so many choices that we have little hope of ever finding what we want on our own; in part because we are never really sure what we want anyway; and in part because what we often want is not so much to experience the “best” of everything as it is to experience the same things as other people and thereby also experience the benefits of sharing. The reason is that when people tend to like what other people like, differences in popularity are subject to what is called “cumulative advantage,” or the “rich get richer” effect. This means that if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still. It’s a brilliant article, this, specially for those of us who are into research, trying what the next big thing could be. The message, don’t even try.