What is the importance played by luck in success? Are achievements purely attributable to hard work, talent and skills alone? Do high achievers over emphasise the ‘Bismarkian’ motto of blood, sweat and tears at the expense of the crucial factor of luck? Robert H. Frank, the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management addresses these though provoking questions in an engaging and keen fashion in his book, “Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy” (“The Book”).
As stressed by Frank, the word meritocracy has to be one of the most purloined, abused and overstated words in the English vocabulary, in fact employed to the point of being cliched (my own inference). Citing various telling examples encompassing a broad sphere of professions – from Michael Lewis’ chance encounter with a lady of repute at a dinner table that landed him a job at an investment banking firm, which in turn led him to be a bestselling author, to Ryan Cranston whose reputation as an actor was embellished no end following the phenomenal ‘Breaking Bad’ series (a role offered to Cranston only because John Cusack and Matthew Beoderick turned down the offer) – Professor Frank sketches out the advantages of being in the right place at the right time, even though coincidentally! Quoting his own personal example of having miraculously survived a case of ‘sudden cardiac arrest’ where the mortality probability was 98%, Professor Frank traces the role played by luck. However s observed by the author, successful people are more often than not prone to relegating the role played by luck in enhancing the tangible and intangible prospects in their own glittering career.
Exhorting people to admit the influence played by luck in their success, Robert H. Frank argues that such a realisation can go a long way to ensure a level playing field thereby reducing pernicious effects such as conspicuous and cascading spending on wasteful and unwanted possessions, jumping onto the bandwagon of imitation goods and a dangerous accumulation of debt. Drawing on the works of World renowned psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the author demonstrates by way of famous laboratory experiments, the consequences and lessons that may be inferred by cultivating a nurturing of trust and altruistic tendencies. While some of the proposals such as the replacement of a progressive income tax by a consumption based tax might raise eyebrows, there is no doubting the intrinsic values of the proposals made by Robert H.Frank in this book.
The author in his conclusion nurtures a fond hope that the book would if not appealing in its entirety to everyone who happens to read it, at least triggers an unbiased and impartial interest thereby leading to further discussions and conversations. Akin to books becoming bestsellers either on account of first reader reviews or past reputations created by its authors, there is no doubt that a dedicated reading of this book would spur discussions of importance and consequently – welcome implementations!