First Place Pays

"Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second." - Bobby Unser

When we think of numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, we think of a linear fashion. The difference between each number is 1. If we pick a number at random, they all have the same probability.

It does not work that way with winning, especially when it comes to first prize in any contest with a financial reward.

Book Sales

Does it pay to be number one in book sales? Oh, you have no idea. For years, Harry Potter books were the top of the charts. Besides being first place, the movie rights were optioned from the book. Author J.K. Rowling eventually turned into a billionaire.


Consider a United States congressman who wins an election. The current salary in 2016 is $175,000 per year. Don't forget, the senator gets lifetime medical for themselves and their family. This adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, what happens next when the senator gets out of office? Book deals, consulting gigs, and high paying salaries in the private sector.

The average net worth of congressman in 2011 was 7.89 million with an "M" dollars. Even if these congressman won by a few votes, the difference between winning and losing is a gold mine.

Add all of this up, and what do you get? Millions of dollars in benefits, directly, or indirectly tied back to somebody getting first place in the Senate race. What does the second place winner get? Without the Senator title to their name, it's more difficult to leverage the position for financial gain in the future.

Horse Racing

In the 2016 Kentucky Derby, here are the payouts for the top four horses
  1. 1,600,000
  2. 400,000
  3. 200,000
  4. 100,000

See anything interesting? There is no linear progression at all. From 4th place to 3rd place, the prize money doubles. It doubles again from 3rd place to second place. And first prize is 4 times second place, which means it's 8 times 3rd place, and 16 times fourth place. A similar pattern of multiples emerged in the 2016 Wimbledon tennis championship.

You see, whether we realize it or not, we live in a winner take all, or almost all society. And here comes the fascinating part: the difference between second place and first place can be a mere fraction of a second. It doesn't matter, the money and the prestige does not change.

World Series

Don't think first place matters? Consider this: in 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in over 100 years. Even more fascinating? The spoils they received. League Rules state the winning team gets a percentage of the pie from the playoff earning pool. In 2016, the Cubs took home over 25.1 million dollars to be divided amongst the team.

This 25.1 million dollars is above and beyond their salary and endorsements. I'll pause for a moment, so you can pick your jaw up off the floor.

Google First Page Placement and Click Percentage

Now, what about search traffic. Here is another example or an exponential gain if you win versus a linear gain. Take a look below at a 2016 report of the click percentage from organic search results on the first page of Google.
  1. 36%
  2. 12%
  3. 10%

If you ranked number 1 on page 1 of Google, your website gets 36% of all the clicks. The next closest result beneath you, gets only 12%. Now, we don't know Google's exact algorithm. But we know it's a scoring system. Which means if you beat somebody by a mere decimal point and take first prize - your click volume triples.

What will it take to get you to first place?

Think about your daily practice. No matter what your field of passion, do some research. Figure out, how much more money, prestige, and opportunity do I get if I make it to first place in my field? The answers may surprise you.