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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The "Science of Success?"

"S = Q(r)"

So, the other day while reading through my December 14th hardcopy issue of Science Magazine,

I ran across a review of the book depicted above. I have to confess, my first-blush reflexive reaction comprised a bit of dubiety -- "like, what is this doing here in the AAAS flagship periodical? Universal Laws of Success? Another TED Talk self-help hustle?"

Nope. Now I know. Science, man. The author's concluding words:
I opened this book with the statement that scientific laws are immutable—we can’t rewrite them to serve our goals. Rather, we can use our awareness of them to inform our future choices and to benefit our world. The same is true for the Laws of Success. We can’t alter them, but we can use them to evaluate when performance is sufficient for success and when it isn’t. The lessons we can extract from these laws will help us find a balance, deciding how much effort we should devote to honing our skills vs. networking, assessing how credit will be allocated on projects we’re involved in, and strategically choosing collaborators to boost creativity. When we break down and demystify success using the tools of science, we learn to see what we can control and what we can’t. Most important, we can apply various laws in tandem to best enhance outcomes. And we can use this knowledge to dissect the success narratives around us, unraveling the mechanisms at work in the lives of the people we revere—an exercise that humanizes our heroes.

Like Einstein’s, many success stories appear to hinge on one or a series of accidents. Hollywood celebrities are known to call up the tale of their big break—when a fortunate encounter or a powerful acquaintance placed them in the public eye. There is a luck element to this, for sure—and it usually has to do with that first nudge that kick-starts preferential attachment. But, as the Q-factor reminds us, luck is useless unless we repeatedly take advantage of opportunities when they do present themselves.

We now know that the Laws of Success underlie every success narrative, ordering what seems random in barely visible ways. That means, knowing what we now know, that we have the unique opportunity to situate ourselves for success. We can move beyond self-help tropes, which place far too much emphasis on enhancing performance, and instead approach our futures with strategies adapted to our goals and needs. We can use the Laws of Success to better our outcomes, just as we can exploit the laws of motion to engineer better airplanes.

We can also see how the inequalities around us are shaped by these laws and use our awareness of the mechanisms behind success to create a more equitable society. How? By kick-starting the success of the many deserving people around us. By helping the less visible nodes in our networks create vital links. By noticing children hindered by their circumstances and giving them a nudge. By recognizing that there’s more to success than simple performance, we can assist hopeful up-and-comers with an arsenal of practical strategies.

Instead of praying for a lucky windfall, we now have a foundational science to work with in achieving both personal and societal goals. The science may be new, but the Laws of Success are not. Like all scientific laws, they’re universal and eternal. They underpin millions of individual stories of failure and success, each of which can be examined and understood through this new lens. Everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Beatles to Einstein were, for all their genius, ignorant of the laws that skyrocketed the exceptional accolades they received. We, now, are not. And that just might be the crucial advantage we can use in our quest to join their lofty heights.

Barabási, Albert-László. The Formula (p. 242). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
He made the case, in spades. If ever there were a cogent, comprehensive volume of data-driven analytics, this is it. A complete joy to read. I could hardly put it down.

apropos of our health tech space, the author riffs on
...the way the FDA approves new medical devices. At approval meetings, a chairperson seats people around a conference table according to her discretion. After initial presentations by the device manufacturer and two formal reviewers, the chairperson asks the committee member seated nearest to the reviewers to comment. The chairperson then guides the discussion, going clockwise or counterclockwise in the room, allowing each member to raise issues. In theory, this gives everyone a fair shot at voicing potential concerns.

But it doesn’t. The device’s approval is typically determined by those who are asked to speak first. They’re the ones who get to frame the key questions. The later speakers are unable to raise new issues effectively; the concerns of the first speakers have been posed and set the tone. In other words, where people sit in a meeting, and the order in which they speak, can impact whether a medical device is approved for public use.

Think about that the next time you’re in the OR. A doctor might have been able to offer you an innovative new therapy had the key argument for it been voiced early…
[ibid, pp. 93-94]
The book is loaded with such findings, across a wide breadth of domains. He also does a good job with issues of 'leadership" and how it impacts success.

"This is not just an important but an imperative project: to approach the problem of randomness and success using the state of the art scientific arsenal we have. Barabasi is the person." 

--Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the New York Times bestselling The Black Swan
and Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU

I quickly ordered two hardbound editions, one for my wife and one for my son Matt and his Eileen.
"We can also see how the inequalities around us are shaped by these laws and use our awareness of the mechanisms behind success to create a more equitable society."

Yemen, 2018. Yeah, that's difficult to look at. As it should be. To my "Futurist" friends, how can we rationally and effectively advocate for what just future should look like (given that we have a large say in the matter)?


From my New Yorker email update today:

… [Anderson’s] bank experience showed how you could be oppressed by hierarchy, working in an environment where you were neither free nor equal. But this implied that freedom and equality were bound together in some way beyond the basic state of being unenslaved, which was an unorthodox notion. Much social thought is rooted in the idea of a conflict between the two. If individuals exercise freedoms, conservatives like to say, some inequalities will naturally result. Those on the left basically agree—and thus allow constraints on personal freedom in order to reduce inequality. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin called the opposition between equality and freedom an “intrinsic, irremovable element in human life.” It is our fate as a society, he believed, to haggle toward a balance between them.

In this respect, it might seem odd that, through history, equality and freedom have arrived together as ideals. What if they weren’t opposed, Anderson wondered, but, like the sugar-phosphate chains in DNA, interlaced in a structure that we might not yet understand? What if the way most of us think about the relation between equality and freedom—the very basis for the polarized, intractable political division of this moment—is wrong?…

…If one person’s supposed freedom results in someone else’s subjugation, that is not actually a free society in action. It’s hierarchy in disguise.

To be truly free, in Anderson’s assessment, members of a society had to be able to function as human beings (requiring food, shelter, medical care), to participate in production (education, fair-value pay, entrepreneurial opportunity), to execute their role as citizens (freedom to speak and to vote), and to move through civil society (parks, restaurants, workplaces, markets, and all the rest). Egalitarians should focus policy attention on areas where that order had broken down. Being homeless was an unfree condition by all counts; thus, it was incumbent on a free society to remedy that problem. A quadriplegic adult was blocked from civil society if buildings weren’t required to have ramps. Anderson’s democratic model shifted the remit of egalitarianism from the idea of equalizing wealth to the idea that people should be equally free, regardless of their differences. A society in which everyone had the same material benefits could still be unequal, in this crucial sense; democratic equality, being predicated on equal respect, wasn’t something you could simply tax into existence. “People, not nature, are responsible for turning the natural diversity of human beings into oppressive hierarchies,” Anderson wrote…
A long-read well worth your time. Relevant to the topic of this post. Has embedded audio transcript.
“People, not nature, are responsible for turning the natural diversity of human beings into oppressive hierarchies.”

As Tomasello has demonstrated to my satisfaction "oppression" is evolutionarily maladaptive. See my cite of "A natural history of human morality."

Dr. Anderson's latest book:

"One in four American workers says their workplace is a "dictatorship." Yet that number probably would be even higher if we recognized most employers for what they are—private governments with sweeping authoritarian power over our lives, on duty and off. We normally think of government as something only the state does, yet many of us are governed far more—and far more obtrusively—by the private government of the workplace."

In sum, I could not recommend "The Formula" more highly. Read the Science Magazine review. Get a copy. Study it closely. See what you think. Happy New Year.


Saw this at the NY Times. Screen-scraped it off my iPhone.

2018 S&P lost 6.2%. Tracks proportionally with the DJI and NASDAQ -- very high correlative R-squares. Swell. I'm reluctant to login to my IRA account.

More to come...

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