Thursday, May 26, 2016

An article in the Times...

Charlie Munger, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett., "Are You Successful? If So, You’ve Already Won the Lottery," begins with (all emphasis mine):

Chance events play a much larger role in life than many people once imagined.

It reminded me of the whole idea of free will and the Nature vs. Nurture debate I can't seem to let go of.

It also reminded me of an exercise I once took part in which was about the role of luck in our lives. And one woman in particular -- I swear! -- attributed all of the unfortunate things in her life to bad luck while all of her successes to her own good choices and hard work. Seriously. And she was a highly-intelligent, successful person. (I think I laughed out loud -- and she looked at me as though I had two heads.)

The piece goes on:

To acknowledge the importance of random events is not to suggest that success is independent of talent and effort. In highly competitive arenas, those who do well are almost always extremely talented and hard-working. As Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of Warren E. Buffett’s holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, has said, “The safest way to get what you want is to try and deserve what you want.”

Perhaps the most useful advice for someone who aspires to material success is to develop expertise at a task that others value. Such expertise comes not from luck but from thousands of hours of assiduous effort.

Warren Buffett, I recall, had a more nuanced view:

I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.

But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent, and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the financial system to let me do what I love doing — and make a lot of money doing it. 

(Question: Would Bill Gates have created Microsoft had he been born in Uganda?)

So which is it, luck or hard work? Or some combination of the two?

Take me, for example. I was born into a solidly middle-class family with two parents who lived well beyond my childhood. In typical post-war fashion, my father worked outside the house while my mother raised the kids. Like my dad, we all completed college. I went on to get married, have kids and lead a comfortably middle-class existence myself. If you looked at my childhood and how my life turned out it would probably come as no surprise. Was it luck, though, or hard work?

Maybe, like that woman I mentioned above, all of the unfortunate things that happened to me in my life were the result of bad luck while all of my successes were due to good choices and hard work on my part.

Or not.

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