When you get your first bit of online success, such as your first sign-up to your newsletter, or your first sale, you are inevitably encouraged and want to go on and achieve more. All across the web you can find endless accounts of people all telling their tales of success, of how they did this or that and it resulted in thousands of email subscribers or dozens of sales. Many people look on in awe thinking “if only I could do that”.
But worry not. It could all be an illusion.
Psychologists referr to a phenomenon known as the “hot hand” effect. The notion of this theory is that people are bouyed up by success in one area and become even better; it is the notion that success breeds success. What probably happens, is that people who succeed at something learn what they did right and then repeat more of that behaviour, putting behind them the behaviours that did not lead to success. It does not appear there is any natural process of acquisition of success; it is just hard work.
The problem is, when we see someone achieving success we appear to believe they have some kind of magic, that they are “hot hands”.
This is confirmed in new, in depth research looking at the entire USA basketball season and every game played in the National Basketball Association. This study showed some interesting features of the so-called “hot hand” effect. When an individual made a successful shot they were much more likely than any other player to make the subsequent shots. Also, when someone made a successful shot they became much less likey to be substituted by the coach. It seems that everyone looking at the initial success – other players and the coach – automatically assumed that the successful player would produce more success.
However, what the research also showed was that when the individual who had made their first successful shot made a subsequent shot it was much more likely to fail.
In other words, whilst everyone around the player who had enjoyed initial success thought that this individual was indeed successful, the actual situation was that the player was less successful. That suggests we see intitial success and expect that person to carry on being successful. But they don’t necessarily carry on achieving – indeed the NBA study confirms the reverse is true.
What this means online is that there are plenty of people who have enjoyed online success who may learn from. But the question to ask yourself is “where are they now”? Many people who claim they have “the answer” to gaining website visitors or sign-ups to newsletters did have initial success, but subsequently faltered. With their advice still live on the web, you could be taking advice from someone who nowadays is not successful, rather than from someone who has had true success.
It seems we look on at success and assume that more success will follow, but rarely is this true.
So online that means you need to ensure you do not do what the coaches at the NBA do and fall into the “hot hands” trap by thinking that success will breed success. Instead, you need to do what the really successful people do – examine their own behaviour and work out which actions led to success and which did not. Then just do more of the things that helped you achieve. Ditch the rest; and ditch the notion that success breed success. It doesn’t.