The most successful people could achieve everything mostly due to hitting the right moment, not because of their talent
Bill Gates is more fortunate than you can imagine. Perhaps he is a very talented man who made his way from the position of leaving the youth college to the very top of the list of the richest people in the world. But his extraordinary success speaks more about the importance of circumstances beyond his control than about how skill and perseverance are rewarded.
We often give in to the impression that the most successful people are the most experienced and talented. But this is a mistake. Exceptional people appear in exceptional circumstances. The most successful is often just very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. They are exceptions to the rules, and their achievements are examples that do not fit into the system in which all others work.
Many believe that Gates and other successful people like him are worthy of a huge dose of attention and encouragement, and that we can learn success from them. But if you assume that the “winners” in life become so solely because of their actions, you will be disappointed. Even if you were able to imitate all the actions of Gates, you would not be able to reproduce his luck.A simple practice for 10,000 hours without adequate feedback is unlikely to make a random child a champion of the country in table tennis.
For example, the fact that Gates comes from high society, and that he received a private education, allowed him to gain additional programming experience at a time when 0.01% of the population had access to computers. His mother’s social ties with IBM’s chairman of the board of directors allowed him to get a contract with a leading personal computer company at the time, which became critical to his software empire.
This is important because most IBM computer users had to learn how to use the Microsoft software that came with it. This created inertia in favor of Microsoft. The next software in the lives of these users, too, most likely should have been purchased from Microsoft - not because their software was always the best, but because most people were too busy to learn anything else.
Microsoft’s success and market share may differ from the rest by several orders of magnitude, but this difference was due to Gates’s early success, the heightened dynamics of “success creates success.” Of course, Gates' talent and perseverance played important roles in the extraordinary success of Microsoft. But to create such an exception from the rules they are not enough. Talent and perseverance are less important than circumstances - without the latter he would not have become so successful.
Some may argue that many exceptional people have earned their exceptional experience through hard work, exceptional motivation and firmness of character - so they are worthy of reverence. Some even talk about the existence of a magic number for the greatest achievements - the rule of 10 years, or 10,000 hours. Many professionals and experts gained their exceptional skills through constant practice. 10,000 hours, during which Gates, as a teenager, studied programming, are often noted as one of the components of his success.
But a careful analysis of specific cases by experts shows that an important role is played by circumstances over which these exceptional people did not have power. For example, three champions of Britain in table tennis grew up on the same street in the suburbs of one of the cities of England.
And this is not a coincidence, and it did not happen because there was nothing to do on this street, except for ping-pong. It turns out that the famous table tennis coach Peter Charters lived in the area. Many children who lived in the same street as the coach retired, engaged in this sport because of him, and three of them, according to the rule of 10,000 hours, showed themselves exceptionally well - including, and won the national championship.Just spending 10,000 hours on a task, be it programming or table tennis, is not enough for success.
Their talent and their perseverance, of course, were necessary for the realization of their achievements. But without good luck that accompanied them from the early stages (supporting their families and the class coach nearby), a simple practice for 10,000 hours without adequate feedback would not be enough for a randomly selected child to win the national championship.
We can imagine a child who has an exceptional talent for table tennis, which initially has no luck - he does not have a good coach, he lives in a country where a sports career is not considered seriously. Then he will have no chance to realize his potential. The point is that the more exceptional achievements a person demonstrates, the less meaningful and practical lessons from this we can really learn from the history of the "winner".
But in the case of medium achievements, our intuition about their success is likely to be correct. Common sense, like, “the more I work, the more I get lucky” or “luck comes to the prepared” turns out to be right in relation to the person who has made the journey from bad to good achievements. But to go from good to great, you need something completely different.
Being in the right place (to achieve success, where the impact of early results is long-term) at the right time (when you are lucky) may be much more important than the merits of a person. So we, most likely, should not read or try to imitate the winners in trying to achieve similar success. But the winners may think about emulating those like Gates (who became a philanthropist) or Warren Buffet (campaigning for higher taxes for richer people) who decided to use their wealth and success for good. The winners, who are grateful for their luck and do not take it for granted, deserve our respect.Chenway Liu is an associate professor of strategy and behaviorism at Warwick Business School at Warwick University.