Elena Wong, Assistant Professor at Les Roches, was recently interviewed by Switzerland’s PME Magazine. The piece investigated how people’s lives are influenced by their own unique circumstances. We sat down with Elena to discuss some of the most interesting themes covered in her interview, as she gave us an insight into how our understanding of abilities and attitudes can impact our pursuit of success.
Is success due to your talent or good fortune?
Les Roches faculty member Elena Wong addresses this key question in her analysis of a 2018 paper titled Talent vs Luck authored by Assistant Professors Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Biondo and Associate Professor Andrea Rapisarda.
The original article touched on key themes reflecting factors that impact our daily lives, from socioeconomics to diversity and innovation. Elena tackled this complex subject matter from a psychologist’s point of view and produced a thought-provoking analysis of how social forces influence the lives we lead.
To do so, Elena delved into different cognitive biases people display when attributing a cause to an event. Attribute the wrong cause, and it can hinder our understanding of the real reasons for our own successes and failures. For instance, Renowned Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, Professor Daniel Kahneman, regards the cognitive bias of overconfidence as a tendency to overestimate one’s judgment or performance. This is a significant bias people have and can naturally drift into leadership in business.
Self-serving bias – a leader’s enemy
Elena refers to the danger of committing another psychological fallacy at work called “self-serving bias”, in which a person can only see successes in the workplace through their own contributions, while anything negative is blamed on someone or something else. “Could you relate to, or imagine, a leader who acts like that?” Elena asks. “Someone who takes credit when things are going well, and blames the team, external factors or bad luck when not.”
This ties in with the theory of “randomness”, deemed as external circumstances that we perceive to be out of our control according to the authors of Talent vs. Luck. Elena’s viewpoint emphasizes wisdom and experience for how we get better at understanding these factors.
“Past research has shown that as we get older, particularly when moving from young adult to middle age, this often brings a higher level of internal ‘locus of control’,” she says. “This relates to the belief that we have better control over our life outcomes and not just relying on external factors like luck.”
If we take an educated guess, according to most research, which group of people is usually “better-off” at school, managing their own health and at work? Those with an internal, or those with an external, locus of control?
Personality counts… but not perfectly
The value of personality is an important area of focus, with sociable and outgoing people tending to be more successful in some professional contexts due to these personality traits. “By and large, extraversion seems to relate to a higher salary, and promotion,” Elena notes.
This shouldn’t be taken as a perfect rule though. There are many other factors that impact a person’s “fit” and ultimately their potential to succeed in an organization or particular line of work. Today, both employers and their prospective candidates focus on looking for the right cultural fit, throughout the typical recruitment process.
Recent research from the NCBI suggests that when a personality trait of outgoingness and level of capability for a job are at a suitable level, higher earnings will likely follow. “In other words, if a job requires a certain trait and the individual’s personality has a good fit to these requirements, a higher income will ensue, plausibly due to high levels of performance in the role,” Elena says.
Introverts also succeed
All this said, introverted people are just as capable of being pivotal, particularly in leadership positions according to research, utilizing different skills and approaches to be successful.
The subject of happiness is always subjective, but it definitely makes your career more fulfilling when you are able to achieve a genuine sense of fulfillment.
“There is little doubt that achieving success will bring happiness to your life,” says Elena. “However, Professor Lyubomirsky and colleagues have been advocating that this ‘formula’ could actually be backward.”
The reason for this conclusion is because happier people are actually more likely to be successful. For instance, research demonstrates that happy people are more successful at work, they are better at negotiating, attaining higher incomes, engaging more in prosocial behavior, and tend to receive a higher peer and supervisor performance rating. In other words, beyond talent or luck, happiness could also be seen as a precursor to success.
Equality: a fair pathway for all
When looking for other external forces, the authors of Talent vs Luck refer to a lack of equality when accessing resources in society, including healthcare and education. It seems that many of the most talented aren’t always positioned to achieve at school or in the office. This is where a push towards societal equity becomes more of a practical solution.
“In my strong personal belief, social equity, such as equal opportunities for all young children to gain access to high-quality education, could alter the course of their outcomes,” Elena says.
Elena’s perspective has presented an interesting view of how our personalities and external factors can influence how our lives play out. It also explored how addressing aspects of society might also increase or lessen the odds of finding success. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed our journey into Elena’s discussion, and we hope it has sparked your curiosity in learning more about how talent and luck can both influence your success!