The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized
As a hard-line biological determinist, a few years ago I would have dismissed the importance of luck, and although I’m still a determinist, I now realize that luck plays a much bigger role in terms of individual success than I previously thought.
It’s helpful to differentiate between two types of luck:
-luck that one is born into (such as IQ or parental socioeconomic status)
-external (serendipity, being at the ‘right place at the right time’, epiphanies)
Regarding the first, skilled people tend to be more successful at life, be it recreational or work-related. Skill is a function of IQ, and like all genetic traits, there is randomness in terms of who is smart and who isn’t; one cannot choose their grandparents. Capitalism rewards people who are smart and clever, not those who are the most cooperative or egalitarian, so we would expect smart, cunning people to rise to the top of hierarchical, competitive, meritocratic systems, or as Jordan Peterson calls ‘hierarchies of competence’. A similar hierarchy exists for academia, in which smart but cooperative/collaborative high-IQ people tend to rise to the top; again, I’m ignoring the role of luck in terms of external events.
So why is having a high IQ, but more specially, being really skilled, so important? The reason is, although a smart person may be 99% as knowledgeable/skilled as a really-smart person, that 1% is what makes the difference between mediocrity and success. Success is at the margins–it’s the tiny subtleties that separate the mediocre from the super-successful. That’s part of what makes capitalism so hard, because in order to succeed, you have to not just be good, but overwhelmingly so. Regarding the second type, it’s those ‘eureka moments’, which are both a function of luck (the epiphany) and skill (being able to execute on the idea). Had Einstein not thought of Relativity, he would have likely only been an average scientist, than the legend he is today. Or Stephan Hawking, who was famous for his conjecture of black hole radiation. Is he the smartest physicist ever in terms of IQ? Probably not, but it shows how IQ is a necessary but still only insufficient condition.
Regarding the importance external factors, consider Dr. Jordan Peterson, who in the span of just a year went from having a small following which totaled probably just a few thousand followers on YouTube and Twitter, to arguably being the most important/prominent public intellectual alive, who has over a million followers combined on all his social media accounts, in addition to earning more money on his Patreon in a month than most people make in a year, in large part because of that C-16 Bill, but also the timing of it. Had the C-16 hearing been in 2010, during ‘peak Obama’ or in 2011 during OWS, either it would have been ignored or Dr. Peterson would have gotten much less public support, but the timing Peterson’s dissent was especially fortuitous because it coincided with the post-2015 rise alt-right, the rise of Trump, and the post-2013 SJW-backlash, so Dr. Peterson suddenly found himself with a legion of supporters and a captive audience, that he probably wouldn’t have gotten at any other time, allowing him to sprint ahead of other major public intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, accomplishing in just a year in terms of brand building what took those aforementioned individuals decades to do. That shows the importance of luck/timing; had the C-16 bill been even in 2012 , it probably would have been overshadowed by Obama’s reelection. But also, because Dr. Peterons is smart, media savvy, and conscientious, he was able to capitalize on this sudden exposure than squander it.