Success turns luck into genius

Successful organizations often assume that their success is the result of good decisions, but this is far from always the case.

In 1975, two American psychologists Ellen Langer and Jane Roth released a scientific article entitled »Heads I win, Tails It’s Chance«. Here, they describe an experiment where they flip a coin 30 times. For each time they ask a group of subjects to guess whether it will be heads up or tails up. Along the way, Langer and Roth tell the subjects how many times their guess was correct, not from the factual results but from a predetermined list of results. Some people were told that they primarily guessed right in the first part of the sequence, while others were told that they guessed wrong.

Interestingly, Langer and Roth discovered that the subjects who were told they guessed right on seven out of the first eight tosses, rated their ability to predict the outcome of the toss at 5.7 on a 10-point scale (0 = poor, 10 = very good) and significantly higher than those who were told that they guessed wrong at the beginning of the sequence.

We have a natural tendency to assume that if event A came before event B, it was A that caused B. We do a rain dance, suddenly it starts to rain, and we believe that it was the dance that caused the rain. Apparently, even in disciplines where we know that our success depends purely on luck we reach the conclusion that we created it. Success turns luck into genius.

This lack of understanding of the real cause of success can create a false confidence, which breeds complacency and gives you a false sense that you do not need to improve. To avoid this as a successful organization or individual you must constantly remind yourself that good results are not necessarily a product of good decisions.

Posted on 20th Nov 2013 by Rasmus Ankersen

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