The Matthew Effect and Why You Always Seem to Fail

Recently, I discovered this thing that absolutely pissed me off.

It’s called The Matthew Effect. Here is Wikipedia’s definition:

The Matthew effect of accumulated advantageMatthew principle, or Matthew effect is the tendency of individuals to accrue social or economic success in proportion to their initial level of popularity, friends, and wealth. It is sometimes summarized by the adage “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.

So why did discovering this piss me off?

Because I’m the type who likes to do it alone. I find it’s usually easier (at least I thought) to just figure things out on my own and find the path that leads me to success.

Plus, I tend to start over a lot.

The idealist in me always wanted to believe that you could succeed solely on merit. But then I looked around and saw others finding more success than me and they definitely weren’t saying smarter things. They weren’t even teaching things the right way!

But they had an advantage that I continued to overlook.

A network.

While I focused on learning, they focused on networking.

And that was always the difference.

The bigger their network the more outrageous their success came from doing even less. So to beat them I had to overcome The Matthew Effect.

I’ll tell you how I’m going to do that in a second.

Now I want to talk about The Matthew Effect as it applies to education. More specifically, why it’s so hard to learn to build an online business and why it doesn’t work for most people.

Those that teach online business building underestimate the small things that led to their success. For me, it was my Grandmother getting me a computer when I was 6 instead of a Nintendo. Then my Grandfather introduced me to old-school BBSes which allowed me to go online.

Technically, I’ve been online for over 30 years now. That puts me at a huge advantage compared to people my age who started later.

I was blogging hardcore when I was 22 (20 years ago) and so if I taught you how to write today and you’d never written a single blog post, how different would our mindsets be?

This is why everything can’t always be broken down into a simple framework.

There are compound effects to the things that we do over time and so if we go back to teach them to others, can we also give them the X amount of years we had to build them up? We can’t.

But what we could do is apply the good ol’ Pareto Principle.

We can ask ourselves what we would do if we had the knowledge we had today and had to start over. This is called Zero-Based Thinking and it’s an exercise absolutely everyone should do.

How do you do it?

Think about what you’re trying to achieve. Now, if you had to start from scratch but had the same knowledge you have right now, what things would you do?

This is a great exercise because you can often find the things that you’re doing now that you shouldn’t be doing and the things that you most definitely should be doing.

And that’s my approach to teaching.

I’ve never had the advantage of a huge network to work with. I never had the bid dogs affiliate for me. 

None of those things are wrong. In fact, they would’ve made my life easier, but that’s not how it worked.

Instead, I did the foolish thing and made it on my own. I played the game on hard mode.

But that’s changing. Again, we will get to that in a second.

When I teach people how to build online businesses I have to account for the fact that they probably don’t have a network. Many of them don’t have any of the necessary skills to even get started.

If you haven’t spent years writing, it’s foolish of me to tell you to just write and get good results. 

Look at my emails and Tweets. They don’t use templates. I’m not opposed to them. They are great when you’re in a bind. 

But they remove the thinking part of things. It’s like you want to be a furniture maker so you think the best route is to assemble IKEA furniture. You do that for 3 years and you aren’t any better of a maker.

However, if you did assemble IKEA furniture you could make money sooner than the person trying to learn from scratch…in the short term.

But after 6 months, the furniture maker will surpass the IKEA assembler. But very few people want to look that far out.

And this is weird when you look at the actual growth of most successful Creators.

Ignore the ones that mention how they made $523,123 in 12 days. But look at the ones that you think you can trust and you’ll see a lot of their important growth happens after 6+ months. So if it’s going to take that much time to finally gain traction why not work on becoming a furniture maker?

By the time the IKEA assembler realizes their mistake, the furniture makers already have 6 months on them and so what happens with the IKEA assembler? They tell themselves they don’t want to start over again so they look for shortcuts and silver bullets.

They continue to do so until eventually they give up and think that building their own online business is only for scammers.

This brings us back to how I’m going to overcome theĀ Matthew Effect.

On April 1st, I started tweeting again from my @scrivs account. At the time the account had about 2300 followers, but that account has been around since 2006 and those followers didn’t follow me for the things I talk about now. Seriously, I would go years without tweeting on the account.

So if we’re being honest, I started with 0 followers. Maybe 10 if I’m being generous.

And this showed with the numbers I was getting for my tweets. Nobody was liking, commenting, or retweeting. 

No one.

Which is fine. That’s how it should’ve been.

So I had three choices:

  1. Find some engagement pods and quickly scale up using templates
  2. Don’t bother trying
  3. Build furniture (if you don’t get this reference scroll back up and read)

I chose #3 and started to build furniture again.

I wrote content. I commented a ton on other people’s tweets. I didn’t look at the numbers because there was no point. 

I wasn’t looking for reviews on my furniture. I was looking to see if my furniture was getting better by my own standards.

80 days later I finally had a Tweet break 1k views. I only know because I was seeing more activity. But more important were the discussions I was having around things.

I was seeing that I was building connections and making an impact. That let me know I was on the right path more than any numbers.

I was getting better at using the furniture-making tools to produce higher-quality pieces.

Now, I’m getting close to the point where there are enough people engaging with my good tweets (let’s not pretend they are all good) that network effects begin to kick in.

So where does this leave you? Because this method works for me because I bring something novel and insightful to this space My perspective is different and therefore I stand out.

It would be foolish of me to tell you to do the exact same thing. Why?

The Matthew Effect.

I have 20 years of successes and failures behind me that all led to me being able to create the type of content that I do. I’m guessing you don’t have that luxury. And that’s okay.

I think there are 4 different approaches that you can take that will help you overcome The Matthew Effect. You pick one and spend 6 months building furniture.

I wrote a thread on the 4 approaches on Twitter.

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