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Matthew Effect

By Juan Carlos


Whether it’s fame, success, or wealth, someone who has an existing advantage can more easily acquire it versus someone who has less. That advantage compounds over time.

The adage “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer” is often invoked to describe the effect.

Why Use It

While luck plays a role in success, an early advantage, no matter how small, can change the future course of events.

Keeping this in mind will help you recognize how the effect transforms life trajectories.

When to Use It

It’s easy to believe in a meritocracy and that a hard-working, talented person is more likely to succeed than others, but that’s not always the case.

Look at the widening gap between the haves and have nots. Notice how the same dynamic plays out in many fields: the smartest folks are not always the most lauded, and the most talented folks are not always the most famous.

Prior stature in life is a much higher determinant in outcomes than talent or ability.

How to Use It

Finding early success offers a fundamental advantage that makes following successes more likely.

A real-world example from academia that illustrates this effect well is when a senior researcher accepts an award for a graduate student’s outsized effort on that project.

How to Misuse It

While probability plays an outsized role in determining success, and folks who have more than others are more likely to reap the rewards, that doesn’t mean the opposite never occurs.

Next Step

Notice how others benefit from this effect and kindle success for yourself once you’ve achieved some form of it. The earlier you find it, the more likely you are to change future outcomes.

Where it Came From

The Matthew effect, aka The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, aka the Matthew principle, was coined by Robert K. Merton and was named after two parables:

  • For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him, that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. -Matthew 25:29, RSV
  • I tell you that to everyone who has will more be given, but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. -Luke 19:26, RSV

While at the start, the effect focused on the recognition inequality scientists faced throughout their careers. Norman Storer from Columbia University expanded its usage into other fields.

Hi, I’m
Juan Carlos

Fueled by a passion for storytelling and excitement for life design, I find joy in reframing narratives to illuminate paths toward fulfillment. My experience spans high-growth startups, filmmaking, and social impact. Through mentoring and coaching, I guide teams and individuals to discover purpose and cultivate a meaningful life.

My Story

I started in film, directing award-winning features such as ‘Know How’ and ‘Second Skin.’ These cinematic endeavors earned me recognition and allowed me to serve as a spokesperson for Adobe. I founded the White Roof Project, a grassroots climate activism campaign that mitigated the urban heat island effect and spurred community-led social change.

I carried my storytelling skills and passion for societal transformation as I transitioned into the startup ecosystem. Initially, I contributed to social impact apps, converting complex issues into accessible solutions. This early experience laid a foundation for my later work, where I led the development of groundbreaking products within high-growth startups. My work has underscored the potential of technology to innovate and amplify the quality of human life.