Talent vs Luck: the Role of Randomness in Success and Failure [research study]

Are successful people better than people who did not achieve success—or are they to a large degree lucky? This physics-based analysis looked into that tangled question:

Talent vs Luck: the Role of Randomness in Success and Failure,” Alessandro Pluchino, A. E. Biondo, and Andrea Rapisarda, arXiv:1802.07068v1, February 20, 2018. The authors, at the University of Catania, Italy, report:

“It is very well known 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. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result – although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature – is quantified here for the first time.”

Co-authors Pluchino and Rapisarda, along with their colleague Cesare Garofalo, were awarded the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize for management, for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.

They documented that prize-winning work, in the study “The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study” [Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo, Physica A, vol. 389, no. 3, February 2010, pp. 467-72].

They have also delved into the role of randomness in other fields of human endeavor, including the question of how best to select politicians. Here’s video of Andrea Rapisarda discussing their work, at an Ig Nobel show at the University of Oslo:

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