Why the mediocre always succeed: the study that dismantles that success is a matter of talent

Like the Oscars, they have the Golden Raspberry Awards. —popularly known as the “anti-Oscars”—, the Nobel Prizes also have their antithesis with the Ig Nobel, which rewards the most extravagant research. Among this year’s ten laureates, who received a 10 trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe (a currency defunct in 2015)there are topics as varied as the optimal way to turn a doorknob, an algorithm to help gossips either ice cream as therapy.

For their part, the Italian researchers Alessandro Pluchino and Andrea Rapisarda will still be ‘hangover’ after having received recognition from the jury for awards as curious as these for the second time. Together with his colleague Alessio Emanuele Biondo, this year they received the Ig Nobel Prize in Economics for their study published in Magazine Advances in Complex Systems in which they assure that success is a consequence of luck, and not of talent.

“Western cultures are highly competitive and their meritocratic paradigm is based on personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, cunning, effort, will, hard work or risk taking.” This is how Pluchino, Rapisarda and Biondo began their investigation, who they suspect that “there is a hidden ingredient behind the scenes” of meritocracy.

[Dos de cada tres enfermos de cáncer lo son por mera mala suerte]

This “hidden ingredient” is none other than randomness, luck, fortune or whatever you want to call it. But what is clear is that these authors do not intend to underestimate the external elements in those individual success stories, as the rest of us usually do.

How to achieve success

The authors turned to a countryman of theirs to start building their hypothesis, the Italian philosopher and engineer Vilfredo Federico Pareto. He is the author of the famous law to which he gives his name and which is also known as “the 80/20 rule”, since it shows that 20% of the population, which makes up the minority group, shares 80% of the entire ‘cake’. While the majority group, which is made up of the remaining 80% of the population, has to make do with 20%. This principle applies, for example, to the global distribution of money: 80% of the world’s wealth is distributed among only 20% of the population.

This 80/20 rule has already been applied in part in a social experiment that offered results —how not— extravagant, although they did not receive any prizes. Returning then to those who have been awarded, can you be successful without luck? As the late Amy Winehouse would say, the answer to this question is none other than “no, no, and no.” And it is that Italian researchers insist on the idea that luck is a determining factor in success.

His model, which is able to quantify the role of talent and luck in a person’s success, shows that chance plays a key role in individual success. The simulations they have carried out show that talent not only follows a Gaussian distribution, which is one that allows us to infer the probability that a given value will occur. The success of the individual is also guided by Parot’s law, since the most talented are never the most successful.

Now, if there was someone who was already rubbing his hands, the truth is that only luck does not get anywhere. “A certain degree of talent is needed to be successful in life. The most talented people almost never reach the highest peaks, being surpassed by moderately talented individuals, but sensibly more fortunate,” Biondo said at the Ig Nobel Prize gala. 2022 that has been held in virtual format.

Still, people with “a talent common to the average” they surpass those with more talents, but who do not have the ‘wand’ of fortune. In addition, the award-winning research sheds light on the effectiveness of assessing merit based on the level of success achieved. They also underscore the risks of choosing to dole out honors to those who, ultimately, might have had just luckier than others.

In fact, giving credit to those who end up being successful is “a real mistake,” according to the researchers. Well, it is a way that actually discourages the most talented but not so successful. This mistake we make is called “naive meritocracy”, since it does not give honors to the most competent people by underestimating the role of chance among the determining factors of success. In this sense, heyou The authors recommend that “strategies capable of counteracting the unpredictable role of luck” be developed. In this way, it is possible to “give more opportunities and resources to the most talented, a purpose that should be the main objective of a truly meritocratic approach.”

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Why the mediocre always succeed: the study that dismantles that success is a matter of talent