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The hero worship of successful people is just survivorship bias in action. Out of a population of people flipping coins, we (after the fact) find the ones who flipped heads 10 times in a row and fawn over them, asking them how they became such great coin flippers and what we can do to improve our coin flipping skills. See also: Good To Great or any similar business book.



The other possible explanation is that there is a formula for success. It's just extraordinarily complex and we haven't figured it out yet, so we just attribute it to this thing called luck, the same way ancient people didn't understand thunder and attributed it to gods expressing their anger.


I think we have enough examples of people being paid a fortune to run a company into the ground to dispel the myth of some link between compensation and success. Unfortunately many many people still conflate the concepts, since compensation is generally meant to indicate success.

I don't see a lot of people doubting that someone like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates figured out a viable pathway to success, for which luck plays(played) a role, but is not the only factor. The problem is that for every Buffet you have dozens of clowns with platforms, massive egos, and cults of personality.


Bill Gates is a tricky example since while he certainly worked hard, a key element to his success was his mother being on the board at IBM when they were negotiating the DOS license. Other companies could have been just as good, worked just as hard, and still gone down a very different path - as evidenced by Digital Research.


There isn't a formula for success because "success" doesn't have a firm definition.

I would argue that a person that has a happy home life and feels comfortable and sufficiently compensated in their work is a success. There are hundreds of millions such people. This doesn't seem overly complex at all.


>>There isn't a formula for success because "success" doesn't have a firm definition.

Yeah, but when someone says "Marc Andreessen is successful" most people are able to deduce the criteria that was used to make that judgment. So while "success" as a whole may not have a firm definition, "be successful like Marc Andreessen" may.


There is no formula for becoming super rich like Marc Andreessen. There is only happenstance. Work plays a role in success and in the attainment of riches, but the only thing that can make another Marc Andreessen is being in the right place at the right time.

It is critical to understand that the super rich are not superhuman, though some may believe they are. They are just lucky. That doesn't mean they aren't entitled to their belongings, but it's bad for everyone to believe that such wealth translates to superiority or to some type of hidden knowledge.


luck is undeniably a factor in success, but it's far from the only one. this is the flaw in equating coin flipping to other fields.

sports are the easiest way to illustrate this point, but it also applies to other areas.

with coin flipping, replacing alice with bob does not influence the outcome. everyone has the same odds because luck is the only determinant. no amount of practice matters. the odds alice can flip 10 consecutive heads on her next turn will always be the same as bob's.

with basketball, replacing alice with steph curry vastly increases the odds of hitting 10 consecutive free throws. most importantly, alice can improve her odds with practice.

business is like poker: the longer the timeline, the more true skill emerges and dictates success. but if you only play one hand, then yes, luck may dictate the winner.


This comment seemed to really resonate with people: https://twitter.com/jezenthomas/status/850433378230951937


I think it's a comforting thought that people only succeed because of exceptional luck but that doesn't make it true.

Worship is a problem, but methodical research of the sort that went into "Good to Great" is not.


Have you looked what happened to the companies profiled in that book?


That's a fair point :) Fannie Mae and Circuit City being among them. The question is did they abandon the principles described in the book or die due to unforeseeable circumstances?




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