There are approximately 16,000 tree species in the Amazon rainforest. However, 227 “hyperdominant” species (1.4% of the total) are so common that they account for half of all the trees. Of the 16,000 species, 11,000 only account for 0.12% of trees.
In nature, as well as in human society, we are often faced with the Pareto Principle—also known as the 80/20 rule—the idea that a small number of things account for most of the results. Why does this happen? Why do a few people enjoy the bulk of the rewards in life?
In the rainforest, imagine two plants growing side by side. Each day they will compete for sunlight and soil. If one plant can grow just a little bit faster than the other, it can stretch taller, catch more sunlight, and soak up more rain. The next day, this additional energy allows the plant to grow even more. This pattern continues until the stronger plant crowds out the competition and takes the lion’s share of sunlight, soil, and nutrients.
From this advantageous position, the winning plant has a better ability to spread seeds and reproduce, which gives the species an even bigger footprint in the next generation. This process gets repeated, again and again, until the plants that are slightly better than the competition dominate the entire forest.
Scientists refer to this effect as “accumulative advantage.” What begins as a small advantage gets bigger over time. One plant only needs a slight edge in the beginning to crowd out the competition and win.
Like trees, we often compete for the same resources. Being only 1% better can lead to being the winner. Small differences in performance lead to outsized rewards—the “winner-takes-all” effect.
People and organizations that do the right things—more consistently—are more likely to maintain a slight edge and accumulate disproportionate rewards over time. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better.
Continuous improvement is one way we can take advantage of this principle. While it is sometimes necessary to make significant changes, often it is the small, daily improvements that end up giving us the advantage over time.
In the 1990 film Days of Thunder, Harry (played by Robert Duvall) is on the radio with Cole (played by Tom Cruise) during a race. Harry sees Cole gaining on the leaders and tells him to slow down because he will burn up his tires. Cole responds that he isn’t going any faster—everyone else is slowing down.
Sometimes all it takes to get the accumulative advantage is to not slow down when others take their foot off the gas. Remember, we don’t have to be twice as good as the competition, we only have to be 1% better—every day.
If we do, we will continue to make a difference everywhere we are.
That’s The Kimray Way.