Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Talent allows you to increase your chance of success by exploiting the possiblities offered by pure luck.

Monday was my birthday (I turned 47), and I had one of the loveliest and most memorable birthdays in my life. My friend Geneva has a son named David (also a friend) that is only 14 years old (by a few months). He's fantastically gifted, and he played "Happy Birthday" for me on his viola. As beautiful as that was, he followed it up with the "Game of Thrones" theme and then some Bach. When I say he's good, I mean symphony level good. It's amazing how much talent this kid has in him.

So all of this got me to thinking about talent and the nature of talent itself, and it made me think that (in many unfortunate ways) just being talented in our world is no longer enough to guarantee fame and fortune. But as a caveat, I don't really know if it ever was. For example, even if only .01 percent of the population could do what you do, then that still means (in a world of 7 billion) that there are millions and millions of people who are similarly talented. That's just how the math works out. Not everyone can be a star, and there are some who will fail simply because they weren't lucky (they weren't in the right place and the right time, etc.). I know there's at least one study out there with an astounding conclusion that supports what I'm saying, and it says that luck plays an overwhelming part in the real-word realization of success.

Consider these facts "pulled from the Scientific American blog" linked in the above paragraph:

1) Half of the differences in income across people worldwide is explained by their country of residence and by the income distribution within that country.

2) The chance of becoming a CEO is influenced by your name or month of birth.

3) Those with last names earlier in the alphabet are more likely to receive tenure at top departments.

4) People with easy to pronounce names are judged more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names.

5) Females with masculine sounding names are more successful in legal careers.

So does talent give a person an edge? Well that's a different question. Scientific American says that "in general, those with greater talent had a higher probability of increasing their success by exploiting the possibilities offered by luck." But if you have no luck at all? Well that sucks for you.

I know how all of this sounds, and those who have narcissistic personality disorder are (in particular) going to be furious and push back at the notion that their success (if they have any) has a lot to do with luck. But I'm convinced that the hidden value of luck (especially in capitalism) plays a heavy hand in the actual way events come to pass within a person's life (from beginning to end).

Forrest Gump anyone?


  1. Talent, timing (luck), and determination-discipline. I can think of a lot of athletes who were very talented but they lacked that last part and never became great.
    You can also watch a show like America's Got Talent and wonder where some of those people have been hiding.
    My brother is a CEO and owns a million dollar house. But I also know what he sacrificed to get there. No thanks.
    Belated happy birthday! Nice to get a serenade.

  2. In writing especially the system is so subjective that it's a real crap shoot. You can have as much talent as Shakespeare but if the agent reading your query is having a bad day she might reject it anyway. How many people passed on Stephen King or JK Rowling and have been kicking themselves since?

  3. I'm about two weeks older than you :) Happy birthday.

    I don't believe in talent. I believe that those who appear talented put in a lot of hard work to achieve whatever skill set they have. It helps to have an interest. Love of something makes the hard work feel like play. But work is at the base of it.

    As for luck, I believe we have more influence over that than we think we do. Alas, this will sound woo-woo, and there's some "magic" involved, so I know your rational mind will reject it. (Which is fine. We all see the world differently.) So, I won't bore you with details.

    I admire David's wonderful musical abilities. I'm sure he's worked hard at it.

  4. Persistence also plays a part. You have to be rolling the dice to get lucky.

  5. BTW, I saw this advertised and thought it would make a great housewarming gift for you 🐳

  6. I've always believed the recipe for success is comprised of 60-percent luck, 20-percent talent and 20-percent tenacity. Talent is important because it gives a person an innate ability to rise above the average Joe. However, that doesn't mean said person doesn't have to work hard to achieve goals. They must persevere through the tough times. Then, if, by some miracle, the person meets the preceding criteria, the stars must align perfectly so said person is in the right place at the right time. That's a lot of moving parts, which explains why only a few people make it to the top.

  7. Happy birthday, darling Mike! I'm glad you had such a warm, good one.

    There are so many minute biases built into human culture, I can really see why details like names and personal features can give some people a boost in life. As for luck -- like Liz says above, I too believe we can have some influence over it. Maybe it's quantum physics (how everything is connected and energy, etc.) or something else, but I've seen weird things happen in life. Then again, there's also the old adage that luck means being ready when an opportunity presents itself. Whatever luck is, I really wish I had more of it.