image: Edward Ardizzone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Halo effect, a cognitive bias deeply ingrained in our human nature, has a profound impact on how we perceive and treat individuals based on their success. This bias has the power to elevate certain characteristics, such as confidence, beauty, and intelligence, in people who have achieved success, while simultaneously casting a negative light on the same traits in less successful individuals. This stark contrast in perception is a direct consequence of the Halo effect.
When someone attains success, whether it be in sports, tech, or any other field, their accomplishments create an aura that surrounds them. Success bestows a sense of confidence, beauty, and intelligence upon them in the eyes of others. It's as if success acts as a transformative force, altering the perception of these characteristics and magnifying their positive attributes. Even Jay Z foreshadowed this when he exclaimed, Ain't no such thing as an ugly billionaire, I'm cute.
However, when we examine the same characteristics in individuals who have yet to achieve success, a different narrative emerges. Those who display irrational confidence or exhibit pathological ambition on their journey towards success are often met with skepticism, ridicule, or dismissal. Pre-success, these traits may be viewed through a negatively biased lens, labeling individuals as arrogant, delusional, or even irrational.
From the perspective of the individual on their journey, irrational confidence and pathological ambition may be essential in overcoming the forces working against them.
Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator, has emphasized that determination is the most important trait for startup founders. This determination, which drives individuals to persist through countless obstacles and setbacks, can manifest itself as irrational confidence or pathological ambition. It is the fuel that propels them forward, helping them to overcome the doubts and criticisms that surround their pursuit of success.
Kobe Bryant's story serves as a prime example. Before his championship victories and iconic status, he was criticized for his perceived arrogance and selfishness. However, his unwavering self-belief and pathological ambition pushed him to excel, ultimately transforming him into one of the most revered figures in basketball history. Success allowed the traits that were once viewed as negatives to be celebrated, admired, and even worshipped.
The ability to constantly overcome failure, although lauded and often cited as one of the greatest traits of successful people, isn't even acknowledge or celebrated for those who are still on their upward journey who've yet to break through to being widely acknowledged and universally accepted as being successful.
Consider neutral words and actions of successful individuals. When spoken by someone who has already achieved success, these words carry weight and are highly regarded because this success backs it up. Everything said is "good" no matter how bad the joke. However, when the same words are uttered by someone who lacks success, they'll be met with skepticism or indifference. Success, it seems, grants a certain level of credibility and authority to individuals, reinforcing the cycle of perception and bias.
This cycle is only broken by success itself. Achieving success is the key that unlocks the door to reverence and admiration. But it begs the question: Is it the trait that we admire, or only the people who've earned the success? In reality, without the success, any idiot can grab a microphone and call themselves an expert, so it's a Catch-22, it would be nearly impossible to separate the greats from the field. If Kobe hadn't won 5 championships, would we revere his words nearly as much?
While success often amplifies positive perceptions, there are indeed instances where individuals who haven't achieved traditional success are highly regarded and respected. These individuals may not have attained worldly accomplishments, but they possess qualities such as integrity, wisdom, or kindness that transcend societal measures of success. Their impact on others and their contributions to the community can break the cycle of bias, showing that success is not the sole determinant of worth or respect.
The journey towards success often requires individuals to embrace irrational confidence and pathological ambition, which may initially be seen and treated as negatives. However, once success is achieved, these traits are celebrated and the Halo Effect kicks in.
You're only crazy until you do it, but once you do you can pretty much act as crazy as you want and the world will treat it as genius.