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Talent, Luck and Success

«Talent vs Luck» is a paper that dives into the role of randomness in success using a statistic model. It won the Ig Nobel prize in 2022, the prize that celebrates unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. This paper has generated an interesting debate online since it makes a bold statement: luck is more relevant than talent in reaching very high levels of success.

The paper starts with an easy-to-observe fact, that the majority of resources belong to a minority of people (Pareto Law): «A very recent report […] shows that today this [wealth] gap is far greater than it had been feared: eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people constituting the poorest half of humanity.» 

Western culture reinforces the idea that hard-word and talent are the main ingredients for success. However, the paper observes a discrepancy between the distribution of intelligence and wealth. So, what are we not seeing?

The researchers recreate the evolution of careers of a group of people over a working period of 40 years. The model shows that randomness is fundamental for success and that

«the most successful agents are almost never the most talented ones».

The point is that «luck also matters, even if its role is almost always underestimated by successful people.» Society tends to misevaluate someone’s success because they do it a posteriori, taking as talent what was just pure luck. This is a hard pill to swallow for the meritocratic system.

So, if the study says the truth, does it even make sense to try when luck is such a random and scarce value? Yes, there is still hope. Luck being the main ingredient doesn’t mean, that it’s the only one. Trying matters. From an individual point of view, «the best strategy to increase the probability of success (at any talent level) is to broaden the personal activity, the production of ideas, the communication with other people, seeking for diversity and mutual enrichment.» 

Being an open-minded person is the best way to attract this elusive luck.

In conclusion, this research highlights a rather counter-intiutive and bitter reality: talent is just a minor factor when compared to luck, for reaching sucess. 

However, there are voices that critisize the simplicity of the study.

For example, in this article you can find a challenging opinion. The author affirms that luck is important but so do talent: Talent, luck and success: simulating meritocracy and inequality with stochasticity.

And if you want to read the original study, you can find it here: Talent vs Luck.