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  • Chris Matyszczyk

So You're Smart, But You're Not Rich? This Eye-Opening New Scientific Study Tells You Why

Could there be a reason? Yes, it seems there could.

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

Don't you look at rich people and find too many of them, well, dull?

Don't you listen to rich people and think: "What have they got that I haven't? Other than money?"

In fact, doesn't it astonish you a little that you know so much, see so much, and can do so much, yet you really don't have much money at all?

A new study offers you a reason for your lack of wealth.

It's one that's going to hurt.

The study, entitled "Talent vs Luck: The Role of Randomness in Success and Failure," looked at people over a 40-year period.

Alessandro Pluchino of the University of Catania in Italy and his colleagues created a computer model of talent.

I can't imagine that was easy or, to every mind, entirely satisfying.

After all, one person's idea of talent is another person's idea of Simon Cowell.

Still, Pluchino and friends mapped such apparent basics as intelligence, skill, and ability in various fields.

They then looked at people over a 40-year period, discerned what sort of things had happened to them, and compared that with how wealthy they had become.

They discovered that the conventional distribution of wealth -- 20 percent of humanity enjoys 80 percent of the wealth -- held true.

But then they offered painful words.

They still hurt, even though we know they're true: "The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa."


It's galling, isn't it, to look at some of the relatively talentless quarterwits who bathe in untold piles of lucre?

"So what is it that makes the difference?" I hear you pant, with an agonious grimace.

Are you ready for this?

"Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck," say the researchers.

The researchers actually looked at different events that had happened in people's lives and ranked them according to how lucky or unlucky these events were.

"It is evident that the most successful individuals are also the luckiest ones. And the less successful individuals are also the unluckiest ones," they said.

The danger here is that such a conclusion offers a blessed excuse to many who have chosen not to use their talents in ways that might have brought them fortunes.

But there are those, too, who actively don't seek to be wealthy, but prefer a life that makes them, well, happier.

The scientists, though, offer some rude awakenings to those who prefer to imagine that the wealthy have some special talent.

"If it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals," they say.

This leads them to suggest that their research "sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others."

I admit -- perhaps you will too -- that when I look at the likes of, say, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg or, well, other prominent types who enjoy unseemly wealth, I wonder just how talented they really are.

Indeed, I've worked over the years with one or two colossally wealthy types and come away, in more than one case, thinking, in the words of the great Los Lobos: "Is this all there is?"

Perhaps, if this study is to be believed, the wealthy sorts simply couldn't believe their luck and managed to be level-headed enough to capitalize on it and intelligent enough to realize just how much power it gave them.

On the other hand, I meet so many wonderful, talented, fascinating people who never made much money at all.

In the end, my test is very simple: "With whom would I rather have dinner? With whom would there be glorious laughter?"

I will leave you, though, with the researchers' words, ones that may say so much about our current world: "Our results are a warning against the risks of what we call the 'naive meritocracy' which, underestimating the role of randomness among the determinants of success, often fail to give honors and rewards to the most competent people."

They're talking about you, aren't they?

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