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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

What's luck got to do with it?

Several days ago, I noticed a Dutch article in Scientias magazine that immediately annoyed me: "The most successful people are not the most talented. They mainly had lots of luck". The article was based on a forthcoming 2018 study: "Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure". It's annoying because people refer to "luck" if they fail to produce smarter conclusions.

The 2018 study claims that "intelligence (or, more in general, talent and personal qualities) exhibits a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth - often considered a proxy of success - follows typically a power law (Pareto law), with a large majority of poor people and a very small number of billionaires".

"Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale (the average talent or intelligence), and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based toy model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness." (2018 study)

The most wealthy people are found across all segments of intelligence (ie, average, dumb, smart). I think, feel and believe that the study should have concluded that intelligence is not linked to wealth. However, the study concludes that luck or randomness defines wealth.

This conclusion is absurd as randomness - by definition - must follow a Gaussian or normal distribution curve. This would imply that only people who are lucky "24/7", are the most wealthy persons on this planet. That correlation is non-existent. Hence, my annoyance with this study.

Several years ago, a Dutch field hockey coach told me his formula for success: output = discipline x talent / ego (my 2014 Dutch blog). His formula already makes much more sense than attributing failure and success to randomness. In my 2014 Dutch blog, I amended his success formula to: output = (discipline x talent x positive thinking) / ego.

This formula also allows for "good" and "bad" wealthy people. Neither intelligence nor luck is the first thing that comes to mind when observing billionaires. Discipline and positive thinking are often clearly present in their behaviour. The ego of billionaires can, however, be a clear mitigant in their success. Just compare some well-known billionaire names.

Interestingly, the title of my blog is also used for a 2010 book by mathematician Joseph Mazur (What's Luck Got to Do with It? The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion), a 2016 cell biology study (What's Luck Got to Do with It: Single Cells, Multiple Fates, and Biological Nondeterminism), and a 2014 Psychology Today article (What's Luck Got to Do With It? Bad luck is real, but so are bad choices).

Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect. A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American philosopher.

What's Love Got to Do with It (1984) by Tina Turner


Note: all bold and italic markings by LO unless stated otherwise