The frontrunner paradox

The media can’t handle too much choice. And the media is us.

Ten people running for President? No way. We need to pick two, they say. So someone is anointed the front runner, someone else the challenger and everyone else is a dwarf. And sometimes it appears that these decisions are self-fulfilling prophecies.

Individuals, pundits, consumers, organizations, partners and reporters all need front runners. Starbucks and Nike and the iPod, it was decided, were king of the hill, and so it became so.

Here’s the irony: more often than not, the front runner loses. Windows and GM and Dell…

The front runner loses elections and market fights and even the race for homecoming queen because being the front runner changes the way one behaves. It diminishes the appetite for change and for risk. As a result, as markets (or electorates) change, it gets more and more difficult to stay in front.

The best combination is a front runner who is certain, deep down, that he’s losing, and acts accordingly. The second-best combination is to be ignored by those in search of a front runner as you quietly and aggressively take the risks a front runner would never take.