The Truth About The Most Successful People
It’s not all about talent, but rather luck. A computer model proves it.
When we think about successful people in various industries we like to think that these individuals got there through various qualities and virtues. We herald them as brilliant individuals in their respective industries and write articles upon articles about what qualities we all need in order to be like them.
But all of that can be sorely misleading.
Recall the 80/20 rule, a rule that is commonly used in productivity hacks where 20% of your work produces 80% of the results. What is often overlooked is that this pattern is widely recognized to be applicable in several societal scales.
Most controversially is wealth. A report in 2017 concluded that the eight richest men in the world had wealth totalling the poorest 3.8 billion people. We don’t talk about this because it raises the issue of fairness and merit.
Do these eight men really deserve to have all this money?
Why should only a few people hold most of the wealth?
The conversation usually boils down to people’s own skills, intelligence and overall merit. We point to Elon Musk and how he was dragged through failure after failure before creating an entirely new industry.
We look at all those success stories and we write about the person’s skills or abilities and use that as a defence whenever someone brings up whether or not someone deserves their wealth or not.
The reality though isn’t so simple as someone who just worked hard, read some motivational articles, and built streams of income.
Rather a lot of luck went into their success.
The Flaw In Hard Work
There is a serious flaw in the idea that the successful people got there through a lot of hard work. Indeed, wealth distribution does follow a power law (80:20), but you start to run into issues when you look at hours worked, human skill, and intelligence.
When you do an IQ test, the average IQ is 100. However, it is impossible for someone to score 1,000 IQ or 10,000 IQ on this test. It’s not like most intelligence is being hoarded by a small majority of people.
The same can be said about effort. If we are to measure it by hours worked, some people will work more hours than most while others will work less. However, you’re not going to have people work a billion times more hours than other people.
Unless you’re some kind of time wizard and have more than 24 hours in your day.
However, despite those facts, the rewards for work are all over the place. We still have billions in poverty who work harder than the richest people in the world. Furthermore, there are several studies pointing out that the wealthiest people in the world aren’t exactly brilliant visionaries or masterminds.
What Actually Matters Is Luck
With no other practical option to explain this phenomenon, the only real answer can come down to simple luck. Some people do mention this briefly and some may even hint at it through success stories.
So often actors make their big break by landing a key role in a big film. How a lot of those actors got there were through sheer chance. They just happened to be there.
Harrison Ford got to be Han Solo just because he was on set doing some other job. Before then he was in the background of a lot of films.
Jim Carrey landed his role in Dumb and Dumber through sheer luck too as he spent most of his life before then cracking jokes at small bars and comedy houses.
Those lucky breaks happened to so many successful people who just happened to be there at the right time and took initiative.
Luck does play a huge factor in the end, but the challenging part in all of this is how to make it work for everyday people. Several people have proposed ideas of it — with some manipulating people — but the answer to that comes from a computer model.
And Our Ability To Exploit Luck
The work of Alessandro Pluchino at the University of Catania in Italy provides an eye-opening experience in to what it actually takes to be successful.
He and his colleagues put together a computer model of human talent and analyzed the way people exploit the opportunities in their lives. This model allows the team to study how luck plays in the process of being successful.
What this model shows is that the wealth distribution is the same as it is in the real world: 20 percent of the world is going to hold 80 percent of the wealth. Furthermore, 20 percent of the people aren’t the most talented people — though they have some degree of talent.
Despite that situation, the 20 percent group is the luckiest and that has significant implications for how societies optimize returns from investments in everything in life.
The model Pluchino has made is straightforward:
There are N people, each of which have a certain level of talent.
This talent is distributed around on an average level with some standard deviation.
Some will have more talent than average and some will be less. However, the gap in talent isn’t significant.
This distribution can be seen for all kinds of human skills and even characteristics like height and weight. Yes we have some tall people and small people but we don’t have people as big as skyscrapers or as small as an ant.
After all of that is done, the computer model charts every individual through a working life of 40 years. Over that period of time, individuals experience lucky events that they can exploit. To exploit it properly, they need to be talented enough to do so.
At the same time that they have those chances to increase wealth, they also have unlucky events occurring at random.
After running this simulation several times over, the results end up in the same situation as we face in reality. The simulation proves in the end that the wealthiest people are the luckiest ones and the less successful ones are the unluckiest ones.
So How Do We Leverage Luck?
There are many people who might claim how to exploit luck but there is still a lot of research left. In the case of this study, Pluchino and co are looking at this from a science research funding perspective.
In this instance, funding agencies across the world are interested in making the most of their investment in the scientific world. We see this in the fact the European Research Council investing $1.7 million into studying serendipity — the role of luck in scientific discovery — and how it can be exploited to boost funding outcomes.
This scenario allows Pluchino and co to use their model to explore various kinds of funding models to see what’s going to make the best returns when we factor luck into the equation.
This resulted in three models:
The first is where funding is distributed equally across the scientists
The second is distributed randomly to a subset of scientists
And the third leans to funding the scientists who have been the most successful in the past.
Out of the three options, the strategy that delivers the best returns is the first — where everyone gets equal funding.
This approach is the best strategy because it gives every scientist an advantage of the serendipitous discoveries that they will make on occasion. It is also worth noting that even if a scientist makes an important discovery in the past, it doesn’t mean they will make one or more in the future.
At the end of the day, that approach of spreading out your investment can apply in so many contexts. Small or big businesses, tech startups, education, or possibly creating random lucky events.
At the end of the day, we don’t fully know how many lucky events we will have in our lifetime, but it all comes down to looking at these opportunities and figuring out what is the best way to leverage those events.
There is still more work that needs to be done to uncover this, but at the very least we do know for certain that the people at the top are just people who got lucky.
CONTRIBUTED BY Eric S Burdon