Equal talent does not get equal recognition because customers, employers, and fans like associating with known winners.
And being known as a winner is not the same thing as being talented.
1. Talent will cluster around tiny groups of people because people like associating with winners, so success snowballs.
Joshua Bell is one of the top violinists in the world. He sells out auditorium concerts, and if you can find a ticket, congrats, they can be several hundred dollars each.
In 2007 Bell did an experiment. He played his violin in a D.C. metro station, like a starving artist begging for change. He didn’t advertise who he was, and wore a baseball hat to stay incognito.
Eleven hundred people passed Bell playing his violin. Only seven stopped to listen. No one cared.
Not every metro rider appreciates classical music. But those who do don’t just want to hear a good violinist. They want to hear Joshua Bell. Remove the name recognition and the actual music is infinitely less notable.
The same thing happens with books. J.K. Rowling once published a book under a pseudonym, and it barely sold. After it was revealed that she was the author it instantly went from 4,709th on Amazon’s bestseller list to number three.
Equal talent does not get equal recognition because customers, employers, and fans like associating with known winners. And being known as a winner is not the same thing as being talented.
Two things cause this.
One is that winning opens doors, so perceived talent creates greater opportunities for actual talent. The best athletes get the best coaches; the best investors get the most patient capital.
Another is that the perception of winning makes it easier for people to check the boxes necessary to value your worth.
Every solution to a social trend is, at best, like the flu vaccine. It can be effective in a given period of time.
But it has to be constantly updated, because the virus it’s protecting against evolves and adapts.
Few problem-solvers want to admit that.
It’s neither easy or intuitive to let go of a good idea whose time has passed. So we’ll always be debating problems and chasing new answers, despite our desire to think we’ve found a solution.
As certain as death and taxes.