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The Archetypes of Business Success


The Archetypes of Business Success

Greg Hennessy shares an article drawn from systems thinking and the pattern of behavior that leads to a success silo for the successful. 

How is it that those with power seem to gain even more of it over time? And why do the disadvantaged seem to lose what little power they have, becoming increasingly reliant on those in positions of influence? If these dynamics are based on either divine or natural law, as some might suppose, then nothing can be done to change them—which is convenient if you’re one of the powerful. But if you believe this pattern of behavior can be changed, then you need to understand what drives it.

A system’s structure—its parts and how they interact—determines how the system as a whole behaves. If you want to know why you can’t take a sports car off-road, then look at its parts and how they work together. A sports car’s tires and suspension are designed for taking tight turns and fast acceleration, not to power through mud and over rocks and other obstacles. Structure is easiest to see in physical objects like vehicles, but it is equally true of social systems.

A given structure produces similar behavior, regardless of the specific system in which it is found. And when the same patterns of parts and interrelationships show up in a wide variety of systems, they are called archetypes.

As described by these references and others, a relatively small number of archetypes can be used to explain an astonishingly wide range of system behaviors. The classic Success to the Successful archetype describes the structure that leads to the accumulation of opportunity and power for some and its decline for others.

In two decades of teaching systems thinking, I have described this archetype in countless workshops. One of my favorite narratives goes something like this:

Two new consultants, Chris and Pat, have identical potential and start work on the same day. Projects vary in length and start time, and at the moment, only Acme Financial is able to take on a new employee. The staffing manager flips a coin to determine who gets the plum assignment and who will review and organize recent project files. The loser of the toss will get the next assignment, which will probably be in three or four weeks. Chris wins the toss and joins the team at Acme Financial that afternoon. Pat starts reviewing project files, as planned.

Three weeks later, a new project is being staffed. It’s a high-profile project with an important client—one that will be a great development opportunity for a new employee. The staffing manager informs the project manager that Pat is on deck for the assignment. The project manager, having heard about Chris’s work at Acme Financial, has other ideas. She suggests that Chris be tapped for this assignment. Neither Chris nor Pat have the experience she would like, but she says, “Chris has at least seen some action. Pat has been doing what, exactly?”


Key points include:

  • A system’s structure
  • Staffing processes
  • The evolution of power in work relationships


Read the full article, Power to the Powerful, on LinkedIn.