I think people dislike talking about luck's role in our successes (but not failures) because it hints at a deterministic world view where our free will is less important than we'd like to believe.
For example, going to Princeton gives you a much bigger chance to be seated next to an important Lehman person, and having the right parents gives you a much higher chance to go to Princeton. Some people have such high "n" they are bound to end up "lucky".
Also, most often than not, merely beating inertia and getting to do things, no matter how involved or not they are, can have a tremendous impact on one's success. Simple things really work. You just have to do stuff. Other times you just have to ask. You'd be surprised how often you get exactly what you ask for without being manipulative. Rejection Therapy  is a true eye opener, especially when the rejection never comes. The way I see it, it's the most profound realization that at that point luck was just made out of thin air.
And while some things definitely cannot change, like the country one was born in and the socioeconomic status of their parents, there are many, many others that can be hacked.
This is not a lesson in self-help, but one about one's place in society.
Like you, I believe that I've had some say in getting to where I am today, but it's hard to tell how much of that is reality and how much is self-aggrandizement.
In other words, we view the odds of an unlikely event as lucky (the chance you'll sit next to someone important) but the odds of a likely (sitting next to someone who can't get you a job) event as the norm.
In other words you're more likely to hear, "I worked very hard" than "I worked very hard and was very lucky."
There are notable exceptions. Warren Buffet has openly talked about the role of luck in his success.
A refinement of the stochastic model considers that geniuses exist but they are able to see and synthesize more than others not that they can see what others can't. They benefit from the cultural backdrop and do not innovate as islands. Their discoveries would eventually be replicated by a large number of individuals making blind turns with individual portions. In sum, not all ideas that are discoverable within a cultural zeitgeist are found, it is essentially random who discovers what but there are a few lucky individuals that tend to be over-represented .
How lucky? In numerous ways. In addition to having the right set of genes, epigenetic developments and beneficial stochastic fluctuations in neural development they also need the right set of skills and experiences, and then to not just pick a solvable problem but to pick one solvable by their particular mindset. Solving problems is not a deterministic process but more a sampling of a large combinatorial construction of possibilities acquired only through expertise. So there is an element of chance in fixing the right permutation of ideas. So run history twice and Einstein might not have found General Relativity. In getting recognized luck also plays a role in setting up a Matthew Effect. The only part in which luck is only partial is in being enthusiastic on a subject, the time and effort spent to gain expertise on it (base level of intelligence luck determined, 1 sigma sufficient) and the obsession to be able to think all the time on a subject.
If you are interested in this sort of thing I strongly suggest anything by Simonton (as an aside one of his papers argues that it is not what age you start that matters but how many years into your career that determines the drop off, so late starters get the same burst and drop just shifted in time).
 A small group of highly productive individuals is most likely to participate in multiples, including independent rediscoveries. These same persons are also unusually intimate with the "technoscientific" zeitgeist and perhaps equally gifted with an inordinate amount of good luck.
Not free: http://www.deepdyve.com/lp/psycarticles-reg/multiple-discove...
One other factor is that I think science encourages a certain humility and honesty. When you're trying novel things and checking against real data, you inevitably get your ass handed to you from time to time. I think that makes it harder to treat "because I am awesome" as a 100% reliable explanation.
More seriously. Lots of people work very 'hard' for (what we would consider) very little compensation. Its more important to work smarter than 'harder' or with more 'effort'. (eg. Sometimes you also need to acknowledge when your efforts are leading nowhere and drop something - this might not be considered 'working hard' - though perhaps it should be)
And you obviously don't have to be in a sweatshop to work hard. You can work hard as a Janitor, driver, programmer, stock trader, president or whatever.
To be 'lucky' through hard work you've got to be clever enough to pick up the area where you want to work hard.If by any means you can't start where you would have liked, you need to keep moving gradually to the place you would like to go.
My advice: If your hard work doesn't look rewarding in both the long and short term. Iterate quickly, take a quick feedback and play a different game. But whatever game you play work hard while playing it.
EDIT: To all those people who are downvoting. Hard work in the wrong direction doesn't give the results you expect. Is this such a difficult and surprising thing to understand?
In the end, they did not get the big record deal, the band fell apart, and they all went on to different things. I've had a hindsight talk with the leader of the band and he's basically said, we thought all our hard work touring would pay off, but we probably should have been working on other things (like marketing and woo-ing labels, I presume).
Kind of OT, but the big change in my career came when I realized that promotions are not rewards for "hard work", moving up comes from demonstrating you'll be more effective at the new job. As a worker, you think that you get promoted as a reward for what you've done, but as a manager, you promote because of what the worker can do in the future.
"The luckier I got, the luckier I get"
Luck, working smarter, working harder.
Luck is a major factor for everyone, but you can't control it. You can certainly influence working smarter, but it is often a matter of juding in hindsight what was smart rather than determining it before hand. Working harder is much more under our control than the others.
It is important to acknowledge luck. This helps use be humble in our successes, not be too devestated in our failuers, and be compassionate to those less fortunate. It is also just plain true.
It is also important to try to work smart - creating a startup, writing a novel, etc at least has a chance of creating huge rewards and even changing the world...the odds of changing the world from inside the sweatshop you mention are close to nil.
But it is how hard we work that we can mostly control, and there is some truth to Goldwyn's quote...it just isn't all of the truth.
It definitely is, but it only takes you there. You have carry it from there on.
Most of rich kids feel its their 'right' to be rich, regardless of whether they 'deserve' it or not. I have a lot of friends who inherited crazy fortune from their parents. According to them poor people getting rich due to whatever reason is 'unfair' to them.
Most rich kids just like the status quo to remain unchanged. Their idea of getting rich, is they staying where they are, without much effort and others remaining poor.
From a poor guy's perspective he has to 'rise' no matter how. From a rich guy's perspective he is supposed to stay where he is no matter how. Most rich people think, the poor are poor because they don't deserve to be rich. And they are rich because of a special gift, like a unique blessing which only they are supposed to have as it was given to them at birth.
This is not just restricted to money. This sort of a thing also happens in many other things like for example born-with talents Vs Gathered skills. Naturally talented people don't like others gaining their skill through practice. Because they feel their born-with skill was a special gift they have, some kind of a unique blessing. And you are supposed to get only through that special gift.
Lets say you are a kid with the costliest video game in the neighborhood. You got it because your rich Uncle Joe gave it to you. You pride around telling you are the only guy who has it. You also know nobody else can have it because no one near has a rich uncle Joe. An year later you find another guy having the same video game, which he bought after selling lemonade on the footpath.
Now not only does he have the video game, but he has it without the rich uncle joe. In other words your rich Uncle joe isn't a special distinction you have anymore.
Ignoring the role luck's roles leads to lot's of stupid decisions like this. 99.9% of the time going 90 on an interstate is fine, that does not mean it's a wise decision.
My point isn't that random isn't a big deal, or that people don't ever overestimate themselves, but that people shouldn't look at it like that anyways, it keeps you in control of your own life.
We see a lot of moralizing about this, particularly in the USA where individualism and the self-made-man is practically a national religion, more pervasive and deeper-rooted than even Christianity.
We see this every day on television - politicians foaming at the mouth about lazy good-for-nothings who failed to provide for themselves and now reach their hand out to their fellow taxpayers. We see it every time the word "Entitlement" appears in yet another headline.
We see it every time when we treat the poor as people who are lazier, dumber, or just plain lesser.
If we are going to moralize about the merits of achievement, and if we're going to continue throwing people under the bus for being unsuccessful, we should come to grips with the randomness factor.
I think though people don't talk about role of luck also because it's useless to talk about it - you can't say: "my lesson for you, my son, is - always be lucky". People try to find something that they can actually do - even though many of what they end up doing is futile.
The speedy outfielder who just misses catching the ball on a flat out run gets charged with one, the hung-over slugger who waddles toward the gap after a late start doesn't.
However, if you're really into Wall Street trading, flip the order.
In a sense, literally everyone who is alive today is lucky. They are the product of an unbroken line of genetic material passed down for millions of years. Can you imagine? Not one of their thousands and thousands of ancestors managed to be killed before procreating!
In another sense, everyone alive today is lucky they weren't stillborn. Lucky they weren't claimed by SIDS or whooping cough, or a cold, or any of the various childhood afflictions we've eradicated. Everyone who wakes up tomorrow is lucky they didn't get cleaned out by a bus crossing the street, or sideswiped by a drunk driver on their way home.
Almost all of the "rich" people in the U.S. did not start out rich. Unquestionably, luck played a role. But how much? Who's to say that, if Michael Lewis skipped that fateful dinner, he wouldn't have gone to a frat party, met a future ballplayer, and then gone on to break the MLB steroid scandal. Or sat next to a White House intern and broken the Clinton sex scandal? or, or or. If any one of these alternate scenarios happened, he would still claim to be "lucky" to be in the right place at the right time. And, in a sense, he'd be right. But that doesn't necessarily mean he was successful because he was luckier than millions of other people around the world.
Obviously someone born today in the U.S. is much "luckier" than someone born in Somalia. Someone born into an upper-class family in Germany is "luckier" than someone born into a nomadic tribe in Algeria. Does that make the "luckier" person's success more attributable to luck? (And, as a corollary, the "less lucky" person's success less attributable to luck?) Maybe, but to what extent?
More important, in my view, is the reverse side of that luck equation: if you assume that input A leads deterministically to outcome B, then if you didn't get outcome B, obviously you didn't put in input A. Replace "A" with "hard work" and B with "economic success" and you have a nice justification for killing the social safety net, for example: obviously people who aren't successful must not be working hard enough.
So accepting that luck plays a role in success doesn't just affect your view of someone's success, it affects your view of other people's potential lack of success, which is an even more important thing to have if you want to have empathy for your fellow human beings.
Unfortunately, cognitive dissonance being what it is, a desire to attribute your own personal success to hard work rather than to luck makes it harder to attribute other people's failures to bad luck, and inclines you to assume that they must "deserve" their situation in life.
So I think it's less important to play the "what if" game there with specific situations, and more important to realize that people who haven't been successful might have been unlucky (or less lucky), rather than to try to decide whether someone successful was lucky or not.
"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."
"There are thermodynamic miracles, events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold; I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter, until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold, that is the crowning unlikelihood, the thermodynamic miracle. The world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget. I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away. Come, dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg, the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly."
My point is that if you dedicate a lot of time thinking about any particular aspect of life, you end up back at the "Getting to Philosophy" problem. Your luck comes in shades of grey. At some point, the line between black and white is drawn rather arbitrarily.
Would I consider myself "lucky" to be born in the US? To be born at all? Sure, why not. It's at least a statistical significance. But that stroke of luck was just the basis from which I built my relative level of success. The same is true for any starting point. The more relevant question is, does it really matter?
I wouldn't say that contemplating the deeper meaning of one's own "luck" is a waste of time, but obsessing over it is foolish. While you're busy contemplating how lucky you are, the other person is busy positioning themselves to succeed.
As a person, I find it useful to consider how I've been lucky in that a) I'm better able to take advantage of the luck I've had, and b) it makes me more careful about downside risk. It also helps keep me from a certain fat-headed overconfidence. As the line goes, "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple." I think that stunts people's growth.
As a citizen it's especially important for me in figuring out how to vote and what to advocate. I'm a big believer in the veil-of-ignorance approach:  In helping design a society, I should do it so that I would think it fair no matter which role I played. You can look at that as a way to subtract luck from the equation.
And for some reason, admitting that one received assistance from one's parents is taboo. Just look at the Romney campaign for a prominent example:
"I could have stayed in Detroit like him and gotten pulled up in a car company," Romney said at the debate. "I went off on my own. I didn't inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way."
So how much luck with him? We could argue that people like him are lucky for their innate drive and passion, but that's a tricky one.
I was one of the graduating seniors at Princeton who saw this talk live, and non-Princeton readers have to understand that the line "Never forget: In the nation's service. In the service of all nations" at the end is not just a concluding remark - it is both Princeton's motto and, IMO and according to many of my classmates, the thesis of the entire talk. The entire speech builds up to make this point: you are lucky, and by default you'll forget that you are sometimes... so make sure you remember to help people who aren't.
And heaven forbid you count student loans as getting help, even though they are taxpayer subsidized to keep the interest rates artificially low.
It reminds me of the story about thousands of people flipping coins. Out of those thousands of people, some of them are going to flip a long string of heads. Does that mean that those people are "good" at flipping heads? Is someone who flips a string of tails "bad" at flipping heads?
"It seems to me that you can never know if your success was due to your own hard work or some lucky breaks"
You may have a point. But, I'm really tried of people attributing all success to luck (and using this as an excuse as to why they aren't succeeding). It also discounts all of the hard work that someone does put into something successful.
If I sit here and do absolutely nothing, I won't ever have a successful startup. This is why I know it's not mostly due to luck. Luck implies that it happens to you with no intervention..like winning the lotto.
The position I was born into in the society definitely gave me some advantages in starting businesses. I would happily call that luck; it's not like I carefully picked my parents.
There are all sorts of odd contingencies that I didn't plan that have helped me in business. The first company I started came about only because I ended up subbing for a friend who wanted to take a quick vacation; by the time he was back his bosses said, "Hey, why don't we start a company?" Pure luck. I could have easily gone a decade longer before starting out on my own.
For me the comparative baseline isn't people who don't do a thing. It's all the people who work just as hard but have differing levels of success. Compared with a Cambodian rice farmer, I'm pretty lucky. Compared with somebody from my social class who was fucked up by abusive parents, I'm lucky.
Heck, I'm lucky just to be born into this era. 50 years ago I would have ended up a car mechanic. 500 years ago I'd have been an underfed monk. I'm freakishly lucky to be living in the Age of Nerds.
Again, it seems there is this trend on HN to make it seem like anyone remotely successful got "lucky". Even worse is blurring the line between luck and hard-work so you can make it seem like their accomplishments aren't as important.
You can tabulate the odds of experiencing random radical growth 12 months in a row. It will happen to some portion of the population. If everybody is flipping coins, then 1 person out of 4000 will flip 12 heads in a row.
I am not arguing that most success is due to luck, or even half of it. I just think the statistical argument is interesting to explore.
This is why I like Lewis' writing. Liar's Poker had a huge influence on me at an influential age.
There's always a sense that he's playing the same game that he's writing about. And not in a George Plimpton sense. But he's often got a message to deliver that other players will not touch. The message always seems worth hearing.
I interpret his reference to the Berkeley study as not one that explains "luck", but of one that explains how life is role-based. People take roles and play them, as if "all the world's a stage". It is. We are all willing to go along either as the audience or in our appointed roles. What I think Lewis means to say is that the assignment of roles, the "casting" if you will, is often arbitrary.
I only wish Lewis had made this longer. There is so much more to say. Not only do people not like success explained as "luck" but they insist on success being attributed to "brilliance", "genius", "hard work", etc. In this case, when the cause of an effect is not clear, we are very quick to find one that suits our purposes.
I confess I have not read Moneyball. I mistook it as the work of a baseball fan and not a metaphor for something more than an appreciation for baseball. My mistake.
It's time for me to read it.
Maybe this is why he was brief: His point is a potentially unpopular one.
It is just a very interesting topic. One that few who are successful would dare to explore in depth.
It would be interesting to hear how his brief remarks were received. Did people like what he had to say?
How To Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorp.
You might think this is lame and outdated, but it will clue you into how bond traders think. In fact, Bill Gross of pimco was so inspired by the book that he went to Vegas and became a gambler (before pimco but OTW). That book also is the holy grail for card counting. It will up your blackjack at least, and prepare you for the next book.
Liars Poker by M.Lewis
Lewis actually mentions Thorp, b/c Thorp went on to become a wildly successful trader throughout the 90s: he even called out B.Madoff as a crook in the early 90s (dude knew his finance games and clearly the SEC did not), and Thorp developed a lot of arbitrage trade strategies that are common today. All of this and more as M.Lewis clues you into wallstreet cronies and big bond trading, insider talk about salmon smith barney, and just how sketchy that industry really is ...
Ok now you know a few things about wallstreet and trading, now go to:
The Big Short by M.Lewis
Lewis again with an awesome breakdown of how/what of the credit bubble and various characters betting against that massive momentum as it builds. Really this book is about personal fortitude: having a vision as a trader and sticking to it, even when the rest of the world is betting against you, even when your vision implies the rest of the world is d0000med in an almost end-of-money kind of way :)
Now move into an interesting layer of finance, which all of us Hackers will enjoy ...
The Quants by S. Patterson
This has the making of a great movie if only hacking were interesting on film (too bad its not really like Hugh Jackman in Swordfish!). Buffet: "beware of geeks bearing formulas" ... exactly and this book is all about the buildup of these trading systems and the people behind them, the little bill gates (relative to bank-account) characters that run those giant quant funds ... And just questions on layering probability and the feasibility of trading into this complexity.
Read on ...
Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.
He was a self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody.
Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.
There are in fact scientifically proven ways to increase one's chance for getting lucky. I highly recommend Richard Wiseman's book "The Luck Factor" which goes into this research: http://www.richardwiseman.com/books/luckfactor.html
However, I think we can take this further...the only variable that we have under our control is effort. Since luck is an outside force, you might as well maximize this one variable that's still under your control so that you have the best odds.
A lot of what happens to us in life is a matter of chance (called luck if it's in our favor). But if you aren't ready to take advantage of it, it will come to nothing.
Although I suppose if efficient market hypothesis is true, then even where you direct your effort must be luck.
Paul Graham responds, "They've taken something from chance."
But not so many understand or realize that.
Next time, they shall be born alone, let's see how many hours they survive.
People feed you. Build stuff for you. Make your life better. And most of them, don't gain much from it. Usually, they just die younger.
Unless you are a king, dictator or some force of evil. Building 99.5% of the wealth in the world will mandate you to build empires of business, solve problems, provide employment to millions of people around the globe.
That much doesn't happen merely by chance.
One should be charitable because it's human to be compassionate to your fellow human being, not because being successful automatically puts you in debt to the God of Chance, which debt should be repaid or else. And not because by being successful you stole your success from somebody else.
Post my 10th Standard(10th grade) I failed to secure a seat in a good college, though I had good marks. I went to a sub par college by any measure. I met some amazingly hardworking people in the college, who were just motivated like crazy to prove to the world that going bad college doesn't change anything in life. We worked hard, very hard. Studied like crazy. I can't remember if we ever slept for more than 5 hours a day the whole year. I did great in my pre university exams.
During the entrance exams I got 'unlucky' again. The bus I took to the examination hall got punctured and I arrived to the hall 15 minutes late. I lost precious rank and again went into a average college. I met some great friends, we hacked in our free time. We did part time jobs in start ups. We installed modems for ISP's. I learned tons compared to other people in my age.
Then again due an average college I failed to get a job in a software company straight out of college. I went to a call center. I got trained to deal with sales calls, technical support, I learned to talk in American accent, I learned to work late nights, I learned how to resolve issues quickly. My other friends went to work at top software companies here in India.
I started coding in my spare time during the day and work in call center at the night. I got a job in a software company 9 months later. Again I got placed in a support project by being 'unlucky'.
I started automating stuff, hacked like crazy day and night. I got a break in another unit in the company. All my other friends went to foreign onsite locations and were seeing the world. I went to work in development project.
I got 'unlucky' again, I fell ill. Lost 35 kgs of weight due to a bad diagnosis of Tropical Sprue. I was put in as a back up guy for one of our client which happens to one of the largest web companies in the world today. I got back my life, and health slowly.
I started working like crazy again. I did stuff with and editor and a interpreter they had never seen. They were happy, they decided to hire me full time. I happened to land in a company any guy here would dream to work.
In this journey of getting and having chains of repeated back luck, I have gotten rich, got a little success and doing good by gods grace now.
If I had gotten 'lucky' at any stage. I wouldn't be where I'm today.
In other news, most of my friends who get tons of opportunities, chances and crazy twists of destiny in their favor are no where despite all they got today.
Moral of the story I learned so far: You can't win against Karma! No way! It will get to you sooner or later. So just do the right stuff and relax.
"I claim that luck will not cover everything. And I will cite Pasteur who said, ``Luck favors the prepared mind.'' And I think that says it the way I believe it. There is indeed an element of luck, and no, there isn't. The prepared mind sooner or later finds something important and does it. So yes, it is luck. The particular thing you do is luck, but that you do something is not."
The question I want answered is:
How do you optimise for luck?
I've come to the conclusion that one most work very hard on something with a scalable market value for a long period of time.
You continue to do this (repeatedly if need be), until you either, in order of likelihood:
c) Get lucky
Bill Gates is a very smart man, I'm sure, but I highly doubt that he was the smartest, or the hardest working at the time he founded Microsoft (many people that run/found companies are very hard working/intelligent - but most fail).
If I recall correctly the founder of Digital Research and the creator of the CP/M operating system Gary Kildall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Kildall) could've become Bill Gates.
Apparently Bill Gates bought a clone of CP/M for ~$50K and sold it back to IBM with a blanket license for ~$100K, whilst holding onto the rights to exclusively sell to other manufacturers without IBM's permission.
The IBM PC blew up all the sales records, and quickly became the dominant PC platform.
The market was soon flooded with reverse engineered copies created by manufacturers hoping to ride the IBM wave by producing clones that were cheaper.
Every single one of them required an operating system that was compatible with IBM.
And who had the exclusive license to sell them the software IBM used?
I have the feeling that anything up to some arbitrary limit (60K-150K a year) you can state that skill may probably have been a major component. But anything above that, and I'm pretty sure you are in very lucky territory. Does this make sense, or is everything mostly luck, and just a teensy bit of skill?
Also, you could say that Bill Gates got lucky with the CP/M OS deal, but he was shrewd enough to give himself the advantage in the majority of the contracts he made with others. Luck did play a huge role in Microsoft's success but their success was multiplied by Bill's intelligence, hard work, cunning, and competitiveness.
Bill's intelligence, hard work, cunning, and competitiveness played a huge role in Microsoft's early success, and this success was multiplied manifold later on by extraordinary luck.
Once again I never said it wasn't necessary - the intelligence or the hard work. I merely indicated that it isn't sufficient for success above a certain level.
Your first statement is unverified, and probabilistically wrong. I heard a similar story that he dropped out because he couldn't take the advanced math classes, and that he was no longer the smartest person in the class. See everyone can do this!
Smartest at Harvard or Lakeview does not equal smartest at starting a company (also unverified - I'm sure there were people that were smarter/more hard working).
It's a sad realisation that in many areas in life (outside of pure competition such as sports), it's not about what people did, it's more about who they were, who they knew, and where they lived.
Liberating for some, but depressing nonetheless.
Bill Gates stopped pursuing math because he realized at Harvard that he wouldn't be the best at it. He was actually taking graduate level math courses in his undergrad sophomore year.
Anyways, I agree that smartest doesn't mean best at starting a company. Intelligence + Hard Work + Competitiveness + Connections + Luck all play a role. Bill Gates had all of them. Most people are lucky to have 1 or 2.
edit:: I guess the reason I'm replying to you is I get the sense that you think luck played a significant role in Gates' success. It may have, but if you read up on Gates you will learn how significantly better equipped he is for success: high intelligence (i'd guess in the top 10% in his class at Harvard if not higher), ridiculous work ethic, ridiculous competitiveness.
Luck plays a role in all success stories but I submit that Gates would be very successful even without it.
So a discussion Mary Gates had with John Opel while they were both serving on the board of United Way of America resulted in an IBM contract being placed with her son Bill's company Microsoft to create an operating system for IBM's first personal computer.
Reminds me how ludicrous the development of intelligent life was (evolution is the Bill Gates of science theories - mostly luck, lots of time, and a bit of skill haha!).
You need the right planet, with the right sun, lots of water, an atmosphere, a moon, a stable surface, an iron core, plate tectonics, snow ball earth -> oxygen/ozone, organic molecules from the oort cloud, and that meteor that killed the dinosaurs (with no subsequent extinction events since).
Sounds like the beginning of a bad sci-fi series!
I'm sure I missed things out, but it was a series of ridiculously unlikely events. Reminds me of a Simpson's episode on time travel - kill a mosquito, end the world :D.
Que sera, sera!
How would Mary Gates be of any help to him if he hadn't built the company?
Her influence was a multiplier and not the only reason for his success.
But it was the main reason you or I even discuss him right now, which implies that it was one hell of a multiplier.
My problem is that the ratios are very distorted: 1% work vs. 99% luck. Work is necessary but not sufficient is all I'm saying.
Hence how would one optimise the multiplier (whilst obviously working on being just plain good), if that is at all possible.
My problem is people taking that as a reason to not do the base work at the first place.
I know of people who hunt 'luck' stories whole day to prove why they being lazy is OK. And not just that, now they expect to get equally 'lucky'. And when they don't they call it 'injustice', 'unfair' and things like that.
> If $3 million a year seems high to some people, it will seem low to others. Three million? How do I get to be a billionaire, like Bill Gates?
> So let's get Bill Gates out of the way right now. It's not a good idea to use famous rich people as examples, because the press only write about the very richest, and these tend to be outliers. Bill Gates is a smart, determined, and hardworking man, but you need more than that to make as much money as he has. You also need to be very lucky.
> There is a large random factor in the success of any company. So the guys you end up reading about in the papers are the ones who are very smart, totally dedicated, and win the lottery. Certainly Bill is smart and dedicated, but Microsoft also happens to have been the beneficiary of one of the most spectacular blunders in the history of business: the licensing deal for DOS. No doubt Bill did everything he could to steer IBM into making that blunder, and he has done an excellent job of exploiting it, but if there had been one person with a brain on IBM's side, Microsoft's future would have been very different. Microsoft at that stage had little leverage over IBM. They were effectively a component supplier. If IBM had required an exclusive license, as they should have, Microsoft would still have signed the deal. It would still have meant a lot of money for them, and IBM could easily have gotten an operating system elsewhere.
> Instead IBM ended up using all its power in the market to give Microsoft control of the PC standard. From that point, all Microsoft had to do was execute. They never had to bet the company on a bold decision. All they had to do was play hardball with licensees and copy more innovative products reasonably promptly.
> If IBM hadn't made this mistake, Microsoft would still have been a successful company, but it could not have grown so big so fast. Bill Gates would be rich, but he'd be somewhere near the bottom of the Forbes 400 with the other guys his age.
So "luck" largely took Bill Gates from millions to billions, a 100x to 1000x multiplier.
I never denied that. I am just saying you have to first make to those millions.
And making millions is not easy.
False narrative #1: This success is solely due to your hard work!
False narrative #2: This success is solely due to luck!
I haven't read ML's books (yet) but I think this speech leans too heavily on narrative #2.
> They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn't. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader's shirt.
I regularly have shared meals with my team and friends (mostly Brits), and this would never happen.
I suggest that success is down to two components: alpha, and creativity.
Creativity is whatever value you create with your own talents and your own hard work.
Alpha is whatever opportunities come your way, which you need to seize to benefit from.
Obviously some people are just born in a better position to capture/generate alpha. And also you can work at gaining a better vantage point for seeking alpha. But seizing it still takes skill (and most of it goes unrealized), and people can be rightfully proud about that (as long as they don't confuse the alpha component with the creativity component, which would be somewhat tiresome).
There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.
I always enjoyed Neil Young because he was always both liberal and conservative and mostly both at the same time. Artists who truly serve the muse will be like that.
It just tells you not to fool yourself.
Anyhow, it was a very great and inspiring read.
2) You only get one fortune a day, so the 2nd would be a waste.
3) My instinct as leader would be to let the other two split it or "first come" - whichever is quickest.
4) Nevertheless, the 2nd "alpha" cookie always tastes better.
At the same time I've had periods where I worked hard and was focused and passionate about what I was doing, and periods where I was not passionate, unmotivated by a crushingly poorly run organization and did not work very hard.
The periods where I was focused, passionate and working hard were the more successful ones, and successful enough to carry me thru the down times as well.
Luck may have put Michael Lewis at Goldman Sachs, but luck didn't determine his level of success. After all, his success comes from writing books, not being a goldman boy. Sure he wrote his first book about that period, but that book took a large amount of focus, passion and effort to create.
That said, I certainly find myself occasionally jealous of people who seemingly lucked into great success. If I'd never applied myself, and thus never had success myself, I'd probably think that luck was the actual determinant of success.
Edit to add:
In this post I deliberately talked about my personal experiences. I didn't make a broad sweeping statement that luck doesn't determine success or failure for everybody. However, clearly people object to the political incorrectness of not supporting the ideology that argues "luck determines success, therefore the rich should be taxed to pay us! we just weren't lucky!" Note that I did not address that argument, I just talked about my experience. But because my experience is inconsistent with the distorted view of the world, it is "politically incorrect" and thus should be kept from the eyes of others, lest they be influenced, my post has been made visually unreadable. I find this anti-intellectualism distasteful.
Your hard work, passion, and focus likely correlate with your successes. But that doesn't mean you weren't also extremely lucky to be in a position where those factors (things that you have more control over) were so able to tip your chances.
Edit: Firstly, we should all be able to voice unpopular opinions without getting silenced by the crowd. I may have disagreed with your analysis, but I voted up your response nonetheless.
Secondly, to respond to your edit. I think you are not quite correct in stating that your down-votes are due to the fact that "people object to the political incorrectness of not supporting the ideology that argues 'luck determines success, therefore the rich should be taxed to pay us! we just weren't lucky!'"
There is a difference between those who do not apply themselves and believe success is entirely down to luck, and those who work hard and dedicate their lives to the pursuit of something more, never to achieve the kind of successes that others take for granted. It is the latter group that you are failing to acknowledge, which is perhaps why you are seeing so many down-votes. I wouldn't simply attribute it to "anti-intellectualism."
That group, if it really even exists, is completely irrelevant to my point and thus there is no reason I should need to acknowledge it, other than political correctness. Remember, my comments were about my experience and to a lesser extent, Lewises.
Downvoting my comment-- which was on topic and well written-- because I failed to endorse a politically correct point of view (e.g.: the existence of that group, or its significance) is the very essence of the anti-intellectualism I was describing.
So, I agree with you that this is likely a probable cause of the votes, but we disagree as to their meaning.
You know what the sad thing is? I actually crafted this post carefully to only talk about myself, and Mr. Lewis, specifically to avoid being down voted for being politically incorrect. But the intolerance on Hacker News for anything that isn't ideologically leftist is very strong. Obviously my self-censorship instinct was not strong enough.
Meanwhile, of course, people can make snotty comments about other political ideologies and they get way up voted, even when their comment adds nothing to the discussion. (not to mention the thinly veiled name calling, and disingenuous attacks that are also common here.)
This is nothing you can change, and I'm not really attempting to pursuade you of something here. I'm just lamenting that anti-intellectualism is so prevalent in society and so common on this site. I know it was not always that way. But the reddit.com/r/politics crowd has invaded and like there they are eager to silence anyone who thinks different.
I downvoted you for saying "My success and failures in life have had nothing to do with luck," which is certainly false. Using one of the examples from the HN comments, you didn't die as a child, and that has certainly contributed to your success.
This world-view may boil down to left vs. right, or populist vs. libertarianist, or what have you, but to claim to know why you saw so many downvotes seems a bit presumptuous when there might be plenty of other explanations.
For all I know, people were turned-away by a perceived arrogance in your opening statement, which has less to do with politics and more to do with tact.
It's really even deeper than that, though. Even having the chance to apply yourself involves a lot of luck. Many people simply don't have the mental capacity to go to Princeton, through nothing they ever did except being born to parents with certain genetics. Many others are born with outstanding abilities that no one ever knows about because they had the misfortune to be born in sub-Saharan Africa.
By all means, be proud of the work you put in to your success. But acting like the rest of the world had nothing to do with it won't make you many friends.
I just wanted to let you know, I'm going to quote that, poorly though since it's out of context as it is.
"Every major success story comes out of the intersection of luck and ability." - dan-k
Has a nice ring to it.
You're discounting the possibility of applying yourself and still not having success, which is really the whole point. Your argument is that those who fail will be more likely to blame luck, while Lewis' point is that those like you who succeed are more likely to overly credit their own effort. You're probably both right to some extent, but given that human physiological traits have a Gaussian distribution and wealth is distributed according to a power law, it would seem Lewis' view is closer to the truth.
People don't downvote you because what you're saying is "politically incorrect", whatever you take that to mean, they do it because they disagree with what you're saying. Don't confuse those.
 Which is a practice I don't support, for the record.
Or maybe it was this which they saw as factually incorrect: "Luck may have put Michael Lewis at Goldman Sachs, but luck didn't determine his level of success." but didn't want to take the time to correct you so others not as informed could learn.
Anyway, you said this: "I certainly find myself occasionally jealous of people who seemingly lucked into great success."
People normally refer to jealousy in a negative way. Personally I think it's a powerful motivator.
As they say in medicine, would it change management? Lewis worked for an investment bank and that is what was in his head when he made even the repeat mistake. Nobody is relying on that info to make a decision. Even Lewis is willing to write a parody (which was skimmed by people who would believe he worked for Goldman). To me, yes, it is a mistake but not a reason to down vote. Look everyone draws the line at a different point and for different reasons. Had he written "when Gates started Apple with Ballmer" that of course would be different.
"Calling the speech an article. "
Same with this. Ok it was a speech and not an article. But does that really matter that much?
Of course that I named a different firm (equally hated) than the correct one doesn't change the content of my article.
It is a post hoc, ergo proctor hoc argument to evade the obvious reason. The actual reason has been presented as an argument by the majority of the respondents so, anti-intellectualism.
You may now resume proving Lewis's point, that "People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck."
His value investing and stock picking ability is pretty much unparalleled.
At the same time, he IS lucky to have done what he did, at the time he did.
Even if one single person like him existed before or at the same time as him, he would have had trouble finding deals to invest in.
EDIT: not to mention the things he did wouldn't have been possible at many other junctions in time. His skill set - value investing, would have been impossible if he wasn't born in the era he was.
While within your framework you are of course, correct; at the same time, its framework is at odds with what everyone else in this thread are discussing. As a result you are being downvoted.
Not because of anti intellectualism.
To be born in a country with equal opportunity, libraries, free education, water, electricity, non dictators. That is lucky.
Wealth arguably follows a log normal distribution. This means all the benefits combine multiplicatively, so that even seemingly small differences in the positive will combine to give a substantial advantage.
Anyone who insists that luck has no role whatsoever in their short or long term success or failure either needs to grow up, or share their secret for how they chose the circumstances of their birth.
A lot of people are born with very limited opportunities. If you were born a healthy male in France in 1895, you were probably dead or maimed at 23, regardless of how hard you or your parents worked.
Seriously, did you read the commencement speech? Makes it pretty clear which school he attended and which bank he worked at.
No it's not.
See from my above comment:
"Or maybe it was this which they saw as factually incorrect: "Luck may have put Michael Lewis at Goldman Sachs, but luck didn't determine his level of success."
Yes, I did read Liars Poker. I think its kinda funny that you question whether I am qualified to comment on his career, but a little bit of research shows he worked at goldman for awhile, wrote the book and has been a writer ever since. In other words, his success is clearly in writing.
The fact of the matter is that "Goldman" had replaced "Soloman" in my head in the intervening years and so I typed the wrong thing.
I think its hilarious that you guys are trying to shut me up and attack me because it is such a plain admission that you cannot actually make a counter argument, and thus you must evade and engage in the standard issue ad hominem and censorship approach. Hilarious and sad.
Btw, excelent movie.