THE BLOG

There is Way More Luck Involved

05/25/2011 02:55 pm ET

But something else is going on here, says Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel prize in economics in 2002. "We believe that people with certain characteristics will produce certain consequences," he says. "But we're wrong, because there is way, way more luck involved in determining success than we're prone to think."

That is from a nice article in the WSJ by Jason Zweig, who describes how we tend to attribute success and failure to leaders rather than other factors.  Boards and stockholders often treat newly recruited CEOs as saviors:

"...a company will be much more inclined to replace the CEO after a run of bad losses--and to bring him in from a firm that has been on a hot streak. That leads to an illusion: "You change the CEO," Dr. Kahneman says, "then performance reverts to the mean, and you attribute the improvement to the new guy."The problem, as this article notes, is that the effect of bringing in an excellent new CEO on the performance of a business is not much better than the "flip of a coin."

The same illusion of causality holds true for many things we observe in life.  The role of luck and external factors on our lives and on the effect of programs and policies create a paradox for us that is similar to others I have discussed in this blog.  Namely, in order to stay motivated to do good (or to achieve any goal), we must tell ourselves that our efforts are connected to the outcome.  Realizing  the effect of luck on the outcome is a hard thing psychologically: why should we keep trying so hard every day?  Yet we do.