Here Are the Winners of the 2022 Ig Nobel Prizes
Citation: “Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuele Biondo, and Andrea Rapisarda, for explaining mathematically why success most often goes not to the most talented people but instead to the luckiest.”
There is a strong belief in Western culture that individual success is the result of personal attributes, most notably talent, intelligence, skill, perseverance, risk-taking, and old-fashioned hard work. As a result, we tend to place very successful people on pedestals. Not only do they bask in public admiration, but they are also more likely to be given additional honors, government grants, and professional opportunities. What’s often ignored is the role of luck in determining individual success, although that element has been receiving a bit more attention in recent years.
These Ig Nobel-winning authors noted in their 2018 paper that the qualities most often cited as leading to great success follow a normal Gaussian distribution around a mean. The average IQ is 100, for example, but nobody boasts an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000. “The same holds for efforts, as measured by hours worked,” the authors wrote. “Someone works more hours than the average and someone less, but nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else.” However, the distribution of wealth follows a power law, with lots of poor people and a few hugely wealthy billionaires. This, the authors contend, “suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes.”
That hidden ingredient, they concluded, is random luck, based on the simple agent-based model the authors developed for this study. It’s not that talent, intelligence, hard work, and the like don’t matter. It’s just that many highly talented, intelligent, and hard-working people are frequently surpassed by far more mediocre folks, according to the usual measures of success (fame, wealth). Differences in education and income levels also matter when it comes to the likelihood of success. So the “naive meritocracy” that’s so pervasive in Western culture essentially switches cause and effect. Talent and hard work alone won’t be enough if you aren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.