Is success influenced by Luck?

I’m currently reading “Fooled by randomness: The hidden chance of luck in markets and life” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I’m still on the 10th page, where anecdotes about stupid and successful people are rolling. Preliminary verdict, entertaining. But this post is not about the book.

How much does luck have to do with success? I really don’t know how much, but I hope it’s not a lot. Firstly success to me is best defined by how satisfied I’ll be. Ultimate success is enough freedom to do anything I would want to. I’m not sure if you understand, but I don’t expect you to. To each his own definition. Reasoning it will be useless, I think we all know enough about success, not to try reasoning or worse quantifying it.

Lets talk about people generally accepted to be successful, which could probably be quantified by number of people envious of them. Think about CEOs of Investment Banks, astronauts, rock stars, actors, models, other people who have jobs millions would kill for. Are they up there, because they have higher IQs, GPAs, more talent, more beautiful? Is it a weighted sum of the above parameters? With enough statistics can you create a formula? Can you predict it most of the times? I think I’m asking a lot of questions whose true answers will lie somewhere in a long heated debate.

I’ve read books written by successful people, about successful people, not very successful people motivating you to be successful (Robin Sharma, Shiv Khera). There’s very little pattern. One thing I notice is, they all seem to be go-getters, jumping on and then latching on to every opportunity, active and intelligent. The book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ by Daniel Goleman, created a revolution by suggesting and proving IQ is not a very major factor in success, but emotional intelligence is. It says understanding emotions is a more important factor. It could be, understanding emotions and coming to terms with them is the first step to understanding ourselves. When I first read it, I suddenly understood everybody else better. It’s a must read. You really need to understand people in order to manipulate(is there a less harsher word?) them into getting that raise, the deal fixed or a job.

Coming back to luck, Bill Gates got lucky, when IBM bought the OS they never had, while Steve Jobs arrogantly missed an IBM meeting scheduled a few days before. Some entrepreneur ran into a VC in an elevator and got his funding, Gisele Bundchen got spotted in a McDonald’s, Akshay Kumar was waiting tables when he got spotted, Edmund Hillary was ‘lucky’ with good weather, closer home my Dad couldn’t sell a stock because telephone network went down. If you think about it luck is a bigger part of our lives than we realize it or would accept it. That’s alright, rationality and reason makes us feel more in control. But maybe it’s necessary to accept luck and plan for it. Cashing on every opportunity wouldn’t hurt nor would missing one 🙂 .

Thinking about success in startups, its an even more inexact science. We see many eamples of good products losing it, bad products doing exceptionally well. While buying it we ask, it’s so useless, what were they thinking? YouNoodle claims to predict startup success. Most probably it’s run by crazed junkies. But they refuse to run the algorithm on themselves. If it says they’ll fail, it’ll be accurate, if in spite of their algo’s result they succeed. I rest my case. I seriously doubt even VCs have a chance in hell predicting success. I’m convinced they are just as clueless as us after hearing tales of how entrant plans in Conquest highly rated by one VC is not impressive to another. It’s saying a lot because Conquest plans are judged by VCs from DFJ, Sequoia, Foundation Capital, ICICI Ventures, etc.

If you’ve ever seen Survivor or Roadies (ha ha!) you’ll have an understanding how random success can be. You can never ever predict who’s going to win ultimately or even get voted out. Well one reason could be the lack of enough information because not the whole footage is shown to the audience. But even if you consider that, it’s never the most talented, the most cunning or the most attractive person who wins. It’s not even the most likable person. It’s always some random guy who’ll surprise most people.

To finish this long post, a quote from the ‘Fooled by randomness’.

“If you are so rich? How come you are so stupid?”

Please please disagree with me or agree with me by commenting. I’m getting too many spam comments and moderating them makes my belly go cold.

ps: I’m now also writing for Webyantra which profiles Indian Web startups. I haven’t published my first post yet, but it’s in the pipeline.


8 Responses to “Is success influenced by Luck?”

  1. March 3, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    that’s the co-efficient you add to YouNoodle’s algorithm or for that matter, any wise man’s prediction on any startup.

  2. 2 Shravya
    March 9, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    it can be very disheartening, if true, that luck place an important role in determining(providing u consider urself unlucky!). Though u might be lucky sometimes, if u r talented enuf to make use of the opportunity appropriately, success follows u(as in d case of Bill gates or even Newton who is supposed to be lucky as he was sitting below an apple tree when an apple fell!!). And as the saying goes.. ‘luck is probability taken personally’..

  3. 3 Troy
    December 31, 2008 at 2:30 am

    I have not read the book “Fooled by Randomness”, but I think that based on my experience, and thus formulating an opinion, it is largely true that “luck” has a lot to do with success. Just because this is so, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other factors that influence one’s success. But, people, especially successful people, are afraid to admit openly about how much luck influences an opportunity presenting itself or one’s longevity in a career.

    People are expected to project an almost unhealthy amount of confidence in anything. This leads to people forced to act as though they are in control of everything that has happened in their life. Thusly, it diminishes the role that luck has played. If luck’s role is admitted, then they are implying that they aren’t in control and they were helped by the chips falling where they may. Preparation and opportunity are disticnt from any direct act one made in the country in which one is born, one’s individual physical traits, or even let’s say your dad taking you to a baseball game and you develop a desire to play the game. What if you were taken to a basketball game or a theatrical play, would your interest have been different?

    Moreover, often times decisions are made by other people and all we can do is put our best foot forward. If one is an actor and has attended the best acting school and goes out to audition, it is still possible for someone without formal training to get a role instead of you, and find more success without the preparation you have made? Jim Carrey is a prime example. How many Yale and USC drama school graduates are out there working as teachers or in administration or something totally out of thier field after spending time and money studying for a career in performing? Luck matters, and because success is so valued in this world, we don’t want to have people get the impression that we had little to do directly with becoming succesful.

  4. 4 nswayz
    May 8, 2009 at 8:47 am

    You should read the book “Create Your Own Future How To Master The 12 Critical Factors Of Unlimited Success” long title I know but Brian Tracy goes in to talk about The Law of Probabilities & how success is predictable and you make your own luck. I think its an interesting read & u can find more info here http://www.thinkandbe.wordpress.com if your feeling lucky 😉

  5. 5 Greg
    August 6, 2009 at 7:15 am

    You sound real young.

  6. 6 johnny12
    March 25, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    First of all, success for most people can be defined by a) how much money you make, and b) your social status. Being content with life has nothing to do with success. I know unambitious people who work at grocery stores and are totally happy. Does that make them successful? No, it makes them happy losers.

    Secondly, success is all luck. Success is the direct product of who your parents are, and where you grew up. Last I checked, you can’t control your genetic makeup, or the circumstances of where you grew up. Once you understand you have little control over your life, you can at least be content with your place in the world. In addition, understanding that life is all luck, the one decent thing you can do is ensure that your children have all the advantages that you never had. For example, move to a rich neighborhood with good schools, and then get them involved in social activities at an early age.

    You will never change who your parents were, but you can change who your childrens parents are. I don’t have a good enough work ethic or social skills to be the CEO, but I make enough money to send my kids to the best prep schools in Washington D.C which will put them on a much better path than I ever had.

  7. March 16, 2014 at 1:03 am

    Good blog you have got here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing ike yours nowadays.

    I seriously appreciate people like you! Takke care!!

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