Sunday, December 14, 2008

I've already noted that the extraordinarily successful are a poor choice of model for those who would understand how to achieve more mundane varieties of success in life. Now, along comes Malcolm Gladwell to devote an entire book to this poor choice, studying a few off-the-charts-successful cases such as Mozart and Bill Gates in order to try to understand how people in general manage to succeed. And his conclusion, apparently, is that the most successful people may well have all been extraordinarily talented, but they have also all been extraordinarily lucky. Gladwell draws the standard luck egalitarian conclusions from this supposed insight.

Much discussion has ensued in the blogosphere, all of it completely missing the point. Of course the most extremely successful people have all been extremely lucky--just as they've all been extremely talented, and extremely hardworking. That's precisely why they've succeeded far beyond the ranks of competitors who only excelled in two or fewer of these three respects.

The far more interesting question is what proportions of luck, talent and work typically contribute to the kind of moderate success that sensible, realistic people aspire to achieve. In those cases, I strongly suspect, talent and dedication weigh far more heavily than luck. Then again, that's probably not the kind of study that would help make Malcolm Gladwell the spectacularly successful writer that he's become.

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