You're More Powerful than You Think

You're More Powerful than You Think

A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen

Eric Liu

What starts out as a random distribution always ends up in clumps: certain trees get more of the light initially, which enables them to get even more of the light from then on and to grow taller, while other trees become stunted in the shade or simply die. Scientists who study networks and complex systems call this “path dependence” and “emergence.” Small initial variations are amplified by positive feedback loops, sending energy (“ buzz,” “heat”) to certain paths of evolution but not others. Nodes in a network that attract more links early on, even if randomly (that is, independent of whether they “deserved” the early edge), emerge over time as the dominant nodes and drive the evolution of the system as a whole. This is how VHS beat Betamax, how Facebook beat Friendster, how Silicon Valley beat any other region.

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