JP: One theory about early successes is that they often are fairly random. So there’s lots of smart people, there’s lots of pretty talented people and then, in some cases, they end up being a talented computer science grad at Stanford. Some of them go on to be professors and teach or work at good startups—and then Larry and Sergey are running this giant empire. Part of that is chance, or luck, or happenstance, the initial project being right for the moment and taking off and getting attention and it snowballs from there. There’s some theory that a lot of this is the result of preferential attachment or cumulative advantage. Preferential attachment is a node in a network that you connect to early and then it’s more connected so it’s more likely to attract other connections.

The Nike email was this accidental, random thing that resulted in me being able to find Ken and Arianna Huffington to be partners with because I had made this big thing that was big on the Internet. And then because of that it was easier to do BuzzFeed. You have more opportunity when you have an early success, then there’s more opportunity and then that opportunity allows you to do other things and it snowballs. So small, lucky things that happen early on can sometimes have a ripple effect and then people look back on it and say, oh wow, that person is smart or talented or something because it seems like it’s a string of these things, but actually they’re not independent variables.

From Felix Salmon’s interview with Jonah Peretti, via waxy.org