One of the core philosophies of the western world is meritocracy – that good outcomes are earned from good inputs.
The theory says if you’re successful at something, it’s largely because of your talent, intelligence, skill, efforts, risk-taking, tenacity, resilience, or some other reason within your control or influence.
It’s one of the reasons why so many leaders dedicate so much time to reading biographies – to glean clever insights that they can use to improve outcomes.
It’s the reason for our focus on higher education, skills-based training, and willingness to invest in coaching and mentoring in non-technical industries.
And it’s the reason that we’re so quick to blame ourselves whenever we fall short of the successes we strive for.
But what if success or failure wasn’t your fault?
A study by the University of Catania in Italy was built to test the role of merit in success – and whether good outcomes do indeed come from good inputs.
Specifically, they explored the relationship between talent and wealth.
Talent (intelligence, skill) tends to be distributed across a population in a bell-shaped curve – with a few people possessing very high levels of talent, but most people possessing medium levels.
But wealth tends to follow Pareto’s law – the 80/20 rule – where the majority of wealth is held by the minority of people. And the most talented people are rarely the wealthiest or most successful in any domain.
The study found that over a lifetime, outcomes were driven more by external factors (i.e. luck) than merit.
Our end-of-life achievements have more to do with factors beyond our influence than talent, intelligence, skill, effort, risk-taking, tenacity, resilience, etc.
Luck has a far greater influence on us than we like to believe.
So how do we find an advantage in luck?
The simple way to stack luck’s deck in your favour is with optionality.
Optionality is like planting a lot of seeds, knowing that only a few will survive and grow to bear fruit.
It focusses on creating a lot of chances so that luck will give us a strong and positive upside, while minimising the scenarios that could lead to a downside.
An example of this might be testing multiple offers in your marketing. The more options you test, the more potential you create to get lucky with one.
Oddly, it doesn’t take a huge amount of talent to do this. But the payoffs are huge.
Not only does market testing increase your odds of hugely successful outcomes (like the 120%+ increases in sales performance I explore in my book Unassailable), it also increases your wisdom and talent for picking the types of offers that are likely to perform well in the future.
In fact, all the best marketers I know do exactly this. They don’t just rely on good theory. Instead, they combine learned wisdom with ample opportunities for that learned wisdom to shine.
Plus – when things don’t go as predicted – understanding the role luck plays in performance means we don’t beat ourselves up too much when we fall short of outcomes.
So maybe it’s a good thing that success is more about luck than talent.
Because the more we look for luck, the more luck we create.