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Success Not Just a Matter of Talent 247

Posted by Soulskill
from the ninety-nine-percent-something-something dept.
NinjaCoder writes "The Guardian has an interesting article based on a new book (Outliers: The Story Of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell) which examines some persons of interest to computer technology (Bill Joy, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, amongst others). It examines reasons for their successes and strongly suggests a link between practice (10,000 hours by age 20 being the magic milestone) and luck. This maybe an obvious truism, but the article does give interesting anecdotes on how their personal circumstances led to today's technological landscape. It points out that many of the luminaries of the current tech industry were born around 1955, and thus able to take advantage of the emerging technologies.
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Success Not Just a Matter of Talent

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  • by jav1231 (539129)
    No shit. Turn on your favorite pop radio station and you have your thesis. Collect grant, profit.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by lysergic.acid (845423)

      you didn't RTFA did y... oh what am i saying? of course you didn't.

      the article isn't saying that success is purely arbitrary. it is arguing that what we commonly perceive as inborn talent is actually a convergence of luck, expedient circumstances, and good ol' elbow grease.

      the author makes the distinction early on between traditional meritocracies like sports/IT versus the world of business/politics, which the author describes as "old-boy networks." pop music would be more akin to the world of business

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by V!NCENT (1105021)

      There was much more than marketing involved in the success that Microsoft had until this day.

      It involved lies, false promises (yellow road to Cairo), lobbying for antisocial laws (DMCA), lock-in practices(WMV, MS Office files), FUD(agreement with Novell about patents), embrace, extend and extinguish and bying into the stock of competitors.

      Apples success so far came from delivering a better product...

    • I did not read this article, but another profile on Gladwell and this book. The winning talent actually seems to be a lack of interest in yourself.

  • by stinkbomb (238228) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:31PM (#25771209)
    This Gladwell character has quite the literary scam going:
    1. Take an obvious and ancient truism.
    2. Write 200-300 pages of anecdotes related to it.
    3. Profit!

    I heard his next book is going to be an analysis of the power of hand-washing to prevent disease!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Before someone mods you troll I would like to point out that this is exactly the stimulus that 'people of faith' the world over seek every time they enter a place of worship.

      Gladwell is utilizing a proven tool (rehashing the familiar) to get people thinking...

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:47PM (#25771971) Journal

        Gladwell is utilizing a proven tool (rehashing the familiar) to get people thinking...

        It only gets people thinking, in the sense that they are thinking along the lines you have outlined.

        And anyone who knows about debate will tell you that framing a discussion in your terms is a great way to neutralize anyone's ability to respond. "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" is the simplest form of that type of debate-fu.

        Fostering independent thought and inquisitive minds is not something that is done through rehashing the familiar or repetition.

        • by ushering05401 (1086795) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @04:41PM (#25772311) Journal

          OK, so the criticism of Gladwell then boils down to something like this:

          A guy who claims to know something about ideas has chosen the most enduring and successful method for propogating ideas known to man.

          I don't want to come off as brutish, but some branches of my family have been ensnared in occasionally unhealthy religious practices that made no rational sense, so I have thought about mind control in depth. Gladwell is using an extremely well documented aspect of human nature to spread his ideas. The documentation of the technique he is using is called History - AKA a chronicle of ideas that caught fire long enough or brightly enough to be remembered - something this dude claims to know something about.

          Humans like to be spoken to in the manner that Gladwell is speaking and he will continue to be massively popular until a fresher face comes along and does the exact same thing in a slightly different manner. The parent to my original reply should be +5 Insightful in my opinion, even though I think more nuance was required in the original post.

          • Forgive the bad form of replying to my own comment, but I left out the essential part of my position.

            My anecdotal evidence suggests that for a large swath of humanity there is always 'someone' who is given validity through popularity. The poster who started this sub-thread basically identified the method through which my grandmother was convinced to forgo medical treatment for CANCER. Why? Because her someone spoke to her in the method she required.

            Gladwell examined the way ideas work, recognized an age

        • by IorDMUX (870522)

          "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"

          Mu.

  • by spune (715782) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:35PM (#25771237)
    Who would have guessed that individual circumstances play an important role in success? It certainly had never occurred to me that who you know matters more than what you know.
  • by melted (227442) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:36PM (#25771243) Homepage

    Success is being in the right place at the right time. That's 50% of it. The remaining 50% are 30% hard work and 20% talent. The point being, unless you're in the right place at the right time and you see the opportunity, your hard work and talent are unlikely to pay off.

    • by sam0737 (648914)

      That depends on how you define success...

      If you define it as being a CEO of Top XXX or earning millions per year, or being known by many thousands of people, ya that's probably the case.

      Even launching a terrorist attack as a result that the attacker to be known by the public takes a whole lot of luck.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ultranova (717540)

        That depends on how you define success...

        If you feel the need to argue about the definition of success, the chances are that you don't have it ;).

    • by kz45 (175825) <kz45@blob.com> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:01PM (#25771381)

      "Success is being in the right place at the right time. That's 50% of it. The remaining 50% are 30% hard work and 20% talent. The point being, unless you're in the right place at the right time and you see the opportunity, your hard work and talent are unlikely to pay off."

      This is the excuse I have heard from un-successful people that don't want to put the time and effort that it takes to actually be successful.

      We have potential opportunities that pass by us every day. Without the proper knowledge or experience, these opportunities will just continue to pass by.

      I would say it's more along the lines of 10% finding the opportunity (right place, right time) and 90% knowing what do do when you get it (talent and experience)

      • You forgot the other 70%: Looking good [subt1.net].

      • by melted (227442) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:27PM (#25771529) Homepage

        This is the excuse I heard from unsuccessful people who think they can be successful just by putting in the time and effort.

        Truth is, if you're doing something on your own, being timing is crucial. eBay was in the right place at the right time. They weren't particularly talented and now you can't do another eBay. Same with PayPal. Same with Google. Same with Yahoo. Same with just about any truly successful company out there. Perhaps the most vivid example of this is early Microsoft. Their success was built on the software they didn't even write.

        No matter how much time and effort you put in today, you will not replicate the success of those companies in their respective niches. Solely because you're not in the right place at the right time.

        • by Kirkoff (143587) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:08PM (#25771759)

          I'm not sure that Google is a great example of good timing. There were already several players in the search engine space when they started. They just did it better. That's intelligence and the hard work to release it (even if it was a PhD project).

           

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Tablizer (95088)

          No matter how much time and effort you put in today, you will not replicate the success of those companies in their respective niches. Solely because you're not in the right place at the right time.

          It should be pointed out that being "successful" and being a billionaire are two different things. Even if you were not at the "magic moment", there's still ways to become well-to-do.

          For example, the next fledging microcomputer-like or internet-like opportunity might be right under our nose (say, solar cells). If

        • by drsquare (530038)

          Everything is down to being in the right place at the right time. Even ourselves on this messageboard were born in the West in the late 21st century, and we owe our comfortable living to not being born in Africa during the slave trade. We can't complain about the fortune of Gates without realising that there are people living in mud huts with malaria and AIDS who are harder working and more talented than we are.

        • by kklein (900361)

          That is the excuse I hear from successful people who think they got where they got via hard work instead of mostly mere chance. Everyone works hard.

        • by Alomex (148003)

          I've worked for successful world-class organizations and I've worked for mediocre corporations just trying to survive.

          The number of opportunities that came by were not that different for either. The difference is that the world-class organizations jumped in and ran away with them while mediocre organizations either flat out rejected them or striked committees which spent months trying to come up with a response.

          I can give you a list of hair-pulling plain-dumb decisions by those mediocre organizations. For e

      • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:57PM (#25771705)

        So blacks, women, and people under the age of 40 just aren't working hard enough? Because those are the people that are most likely to be making less than average wages, more likely to be working without benefits, etc. You call it an excuse, but for people who have poured their heart and soul into their work year after year and realized nothing from it, they call it prejudice. And it's just self-serving crap for you to say that "proper knowledge or experience" is the only pathway to opportunity when every day on the news we read about Haliburton and kickbacks, slush funds, and back room deals.

        Intelligence is a bell curve, but almost 80% of the wealth in this country is concentrated amongst 5% of the population; And most of that held by white men who are over the age of 50. I don't suppose you're willing to say that this is because that's the only group that works hard.

        • by ErkDemon (1202789) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @04:07PM (#25772119) Homepage
          Come now ... you aren't seriously suggesting that George W. Bush's ability to become CEO of the USA was due in any significant way to his family's political connections rather than on a combination of obvious talent, natural aptitude, intelligence, and sheer hard work? His dad being a former president and his brother being governor of Florida had nothing to do with it!

          And we all know that the guys who make multi-million dollar bonuses on Wall Street earn every cent of that money by working far harder then the rest of us. They work much longer hours than those lazy people on the poverty line with two or three jobs. And its very responsible work. And they're very responsible people. And you have to pay a premium for that responsibility. otherwise, I dunno, you might end up with a bunch of hacks crashing the market. Which would never, ever happen with our guys.

        • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @09:07PM (#25773653)
          You won't want to hear this but is, statistically, women make less it is indeed because, statistically, they tend to work less. It is more likely that a woman will be the one in a two parent family to: Take time off to care for a sick child, take time off to give birth/have a safe pregnency, take years out of a career to become a housewife, or to stop working after they marry. When you factor in all that time off, career-hour for career-hour, women do as well as men. I haven't studied the black people and old people thing.
    • by sribe (304414) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:04PM (#25771413)

      Bull. It's more like 10%, with the rest being split between skill/intelligence and perseverance/hard work--with that split, I think, varying somewhat with the type of opportunity. Life is full of opportunities, and many people just don't take advantage of them.

      • by melted (227442) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:19PM (#25771483) Homepage

        So you think that success of Bill Gates is attributable to skill, not to the fact that he was in the right place at the right time to trick IBM into distributing the operating system he was in the right place and at the right time to buy for $50K?

        • by sribe (304414) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:43PM (#25771621)

          No, Bill Gates is an aberration both in terms of the sheer luck, and his ruthless exploitation of it. When you talk about the most successful few individuals in the world, you talk about people who encountered (and engaged) the best opportunities in the world. But when you talk about success in a slightly less rarified sense, those opportunities are all over the place, and hard work is a MUCH more significant differentiator.

          • by ErkDemon (1202789) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @05:02PM (#25772433) Homepage
            BG was unusual in that, unlike many "hippy" programmers at the time, he came from a "banking and law" family background. He's William Henry Gates the Third, family nickname, "Trey" for three. How many of us have family nicknames in Latin? :)

            So unlike most of the other people writing code at the time, BG understood Big Business. Monopoly power. Cross-market leverage. Inertial market share. And after IBM stupidly gave Bill a profitable toehold in their loss-making PC business, BG successfully leveraged his company to the top, using every textbook business trick going (many of them borrowed from IBM).

            One of BG's smartest moves was to stay the hell out of computer manufacturing, and to instead focus on making sure that all the myriad PC manufacturers, who were desperately cutting each others' throats on price, were paying to pre-install his software on their machines. Apple were control freaks and hated the idea of anyone else making money out of their product, Bill recognised that partitioning the market into hardware and software meant that he could take an absurd margin on the software and leave some other mug to worry about actually building, stocking, warehousing and sell the hardware.

            Microsoft have done a few good things, but Bill's aim was always for MS to become the new IBM, a company powerful enough to make its success self-perpetuating through sheer market presence.

            The tragedy is that he succeeded. Microsoft are now roughly where IBM were in the early eighties, a company with lacklustre products that runs on business inertia, with no real idea of what they ought to be doing next. They hire a lot of talent, but it's not obvious what they do with it all.

            • by sribe (304414)

              Very insightful overall. I have mod points to burn at the moment, but since I already posted on this article, I can't help you get modded up ;-)

              Just one nitpick: though it's not necessarily obvious from the outside what they do with all the talent they hire, it is both well-known and documented [amazon.com].

            • by inKubus (199753)

              Microsoft is a successful PUBLISHING company. It's not a tragedy, it is the goal of any corporation to get enough market share to be the leader. There had to be some standard OS, they happened to be it at the time when it all started taking off, and they continued to improve their products enough that the public wanted them. In the later years (>1995), when Bill was arguably less in control than the board [microsoft.com], is when they began the more deceptive business practices. Bill the man wants now to make a diff

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Paul Fernhout (109597)

              Almost all these replies citing luck, talent, and hard work, and knowledge (all true), leave out a key aspect -- the way you can get or buy all these (or by having free *time* and access to *tools* can develop them), and that thing is access to capital (dollar-denominated ration units in our society). Bill Gates had a lot of ration units (capital) to give him free time and access to tools and learning because his family was wealthy and he was born with a big trust fund. See:
              "How to be as Rich

        • by stuboogie (900470)
          You're right. Anyone off the street could have done the same thing as Bill and had the same success.

          Get over your hate of MS.

          Bill Gates saw opportunity that others did not. He was able to buy the code, because the author did not have the vision that Bill had.

          There is skill in knowing how, when and where to utilize resources to get the most out of the resources.
          • by lattyware (934246) <gareth@lattyware.co.uk> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:06PM (#25771747) Homepage Journal
            Whatever you think about Bill Gates or M$ as a software provider, you have to respect the man as a businessman.
            • by melted (227442)

              Why should I respect him as a businessman? He missed the Internet. He missed search. He missed ad-funded business model. He missed digital music. He let Win Mobile to stagnate for years. He's overseen the Vista debacle. He got into Xbox business and sunk $6B into it so far with no prospect of ever recouping that loss.

              A smaller company would have died after one of these.

              It's kinda hard to fuck up much worse while running a company with unlimited financial resources, employing some of the brightest minds on t

              • I think those problems are because once you have a successful business model, you then try and diversify without undermining the successful business model. I feel it's a totally different ballgame. Although, this doesn't exactly explain Vista, win mobile, and digital music (but other than to compete with Apple, why would they have pioneered digital music?)

                I think entrepreneurs are good at working at what they got, usually with a single strong vision of what they want and usually working well with limited

              • by Alomex (148003)

                Gates was a visionary in the PC era. His skills as businessman then were unequaled and solely his.

                All the failures you cite are in the new internet era, which clearly he doesn't get. This doesn't make him a bad businessman, it simply means that the internet is not his line of business.

      • It's more like 10%, with the rest being split between skill/intelligence and perseverance/hard work

        For very large values of 10? Sorry, but looking at the history of most very successful people, I beg to differ. For example, the summary mentions Bill Gates. His dad was loaded, his mom got his school an early computer to play with, he got into the right part of the business at the right time, and he generally had good fortune. Do you really think we'd have Microsoft if Gates hadn't been, well, lucky? I'm not saying he didn't work hard, find opportunities, and use skill, and I'm not saying hard work wo

        • Gates did have the vision of "a computer on every desk". He saw it as a potential mass-market device, not everyone did.

          Then again, one of the recurring themes that crops up in Bill's earliest adventures with computers is the presence of his Mum. Which makes me wonder how much of the vision was actually Bill's and how much might have been his Mum's attempt to steer "little Bill" into some sort of useful niche business, if he didn't seem cut out for law.

          Apparently, Mary Gates knew the head of IBM socially

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by winwar (114053)

        "Bull. It's more like 10%, with the rest being split between skill/intelligence and perseverance/hard work..."

        Depends upon definition of success. If success is defined as being lower middle class or better, yes you may be right. If success means being Bill Gates, then you are incorrect.

        People greatly overestimate their input in success and greatly underestimate chance. Laborers work harder than CEO's but get paid much less. You rarely get to be a CEO based on talent alone.

      • Bull on your bull. If chance accounted just 10% of success, then 90% percent of the intelligent, persevering people would be millionaire.

        • by sribe (304414)

          Bull on your bull. If chance accounted just 10% of success, then 90% percent of the intelligent, persevering people would be millionaire.

          Who says they're not? (Or won't be eventually?)

          Oh wait, I see you left out the bit about being willing to take on risk in order to pursue opportunity. Ahhh... Nice try...

    • Complete crap.

      If you put in the hard work, you'll know where the right place and time is. It's 90%+ hard work, good decisions, and having someone to bankroll you in the early stages. It's less than 10% luck.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Danse (1026)

        Complete crap.

        If you put in the hard work, you'll know where the right place and time is. It's 90%+ hard work, good decisions, and having someone to bankroll you in the early stages. It's less than 10% luck.

        Sure. Bill Gates would have turned out the exact same way if his parents weren't rich, very business-minded, gotten access to personal computers very early and had connections at IBM. Right.

    • Define what you mean by "right place". Often the right place is in some affluent suburb while being in the wrong place is often being in a ghetto. It wasn't always this way but it has been getting worse.

    • I've always heard it as:

      10% luck
      20% skill
      15% concentrated power of will
      5% pleasure
      50% pain
      100% reason to remember the name

      (Apologies to Mike Shinoda)

    • The key is being in the right place at the right time with the right bullshit and the right ideas.

    • by ravenlock (693538)

      So if 30% of the remaining 50% is hard work, and 20% of it is talent, what's the other 50%, IOW the last 25% of the total? :p

    • But if you have more talent, you don't have to work as hard. I always look for potential employees who are good at a lot of tasks. I don't really care how "hard" they tell me they'll work if they get the job. People who claim to be hard workers are usually (don't kill me, I said usually) not very talented, so they have to work harder to make up for lack of talent. Actually, come to think of it, I think it's pretty good to have a few "hard workers" mixed in with the uber-talented guys because more good s
  • Is there a 500-word essay out there that you cannot turn into a book? He needs to write a popular (how does he do it!? he must be a maven!) book on that!
  • Is that success is often not merely talent and hard work, but having talent and being in the right place at the right time.

    How many /.ers could have been Bill Gates?

    Yet, only Bill Gates had both the contacts at IBM and the luck that IBM didn't can the PC project.

    Also, what the laissez-faire business proponents often fail to realize is that the markets are often structured in such a way as to preclude everyone with the talent from actually competing. Consider the network effect on operating systems,

    • Yet, only Bill Gates had both the contacts at IBM and the luck that IBM didn't can the PC project

      .

      There can't have been anyone in the tech industry who wasn't aware of Microsoft before 1980.

      Microsoft was selling BASIC to customers like General Electric as early as 1976. The MBASIC interpreter became the de-facto standard for the eight-bit micro.

      It had compilers for MBASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL on the market no later than '77-'78.

      In 1979 Microsoft 8080 BASIC is the first microprocessor product to win the IC

      • by ErkDemon (1202789) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @07:40PM (#25773209) Homepage
        The story that I read was that the IBM guys were due to visit DR to get an operating system (CPM), and were then due to drop in on Gates to talk about getting a version of BASIC. When they visit Digital Research for their pre-arranged meeting, they find that the boss is out of the office, flying his plane, and can't be reached.

        So they leave, a little disgruntled, and make the next stop on their itinerary, Our Bill. They discuss a deal for Bill to supply a version of BASIC. This will let them tick the second item on their shopping list. Then, just before they leave they ask, "By the way, do you happen to know anyone other than DR that can do operating systems?"

        Bill sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As it happens, Bill does know someone that already has an OS that could be ported, and who could do the port. IBM probably ought to be talking to that guy. Bill probably ought to give them the guy's name. The guy will probably be very pleased with Bill for pointing IBM his way. But Bill realises that for these few precious minutes, he's the only person on the planet who knows that these two parties ought to be talking. As long as he can keep them away from each other, he can make a lot of money by doing deals with each of them individually, and making sure that neither of them is aware of what he's really doing.

        The first stage in getting this scam to work is to ensure that the IBM guys don't ask anyone else about operating systems, and don't go back to DR. Bill has to get them to agree that he'll be supplying the OS, right now, without admitting that he doesn't actually have an OS to supply. But they've come here to make a deal about BASIC, so they "have their pens out". They've been told that Bill is the "go-to" guy for BASIC, so he has their confidence. They're asking him for suggestions. He has one.

        "No Problem! We can do that for you too!".

        The IBM guys had hoped to be making a deal on the PC OS, they're planning to make a deal with Bill on that day anyway, they have no reason to believe that Bill is bullshitting them, and so it's an easy sell.

        Having got the deal, and stopped IBM from asking anyone else about OSes, Bill now has to put the second stage of the plan into operation. He has to go to "OS Guy" and nonchalantly enquire as to whether OS guy might want a bit of work, to port his uninteresting OS to another platform, and give Bill the rights to it on that new platform. Bill is careful not to let "OS Guy" realise that thus is a potentially huge contract, that IBM are involved, that Bill has naughtily already made a contract that depends on OSG's cooperation, or that that Bill stands a chance of getting filthy rich from the rights to his (OS Guy's) OS. If OSG knew any of these things, he could walk away, or ask for a lot more money, or decide to make his own separate deal with IBM. He'd have Bill over a barrel, because if OSG didn't agree, Bill would have no obvious way to fulfill his deal with IBM.

        So the success of Bill's plan depends on a certain lack of openness: He has to bluff IBM, or he doesn't get the contract, and he has to be less than honest with the guy whose OS it is, or else he might not be able to fulfil the contract. Bill's only hold over OS guy is that he's not telling OS guy what's really going on, or why he wants the OS. OS Guy doesn't demand a huge amount of money, because he doesn't know that Bill has IBM for a client, or that Bill's effectively presold something that OSG owns.

        OS Guy doesn't demand partnership in the IBM deal, because it's kept secret that there is an IBM deal. Bill later justifies the deception by pointing out that he was legally prevented from telling OSG what he was doing by IBM's standard "non-disclosure" clause. From Bill's POV, he's successfully delivered an OS to IBM as promised, so he hasn't conned IBM, and while it's possible that IBM might have gone to OSG directly and made HIM filthy rich instead of Bill, it's also possible that if Bill hadn't made such a determined play for the con

  • by tsa (15680) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @01:51PM (#25771329) Homepage

    Success is a choice. Everybody knows that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Burnhard (1031106)
      No, not everybody can be a success. If everybody put in 10,000 hours training as children, there would just be a whole lot more people competing for that one top spot, but still only one top spot.
      • This is true if you define "success" narrowly to mean only having the "top spot." I like to think of success as a person doing their absolute best given their life circumstances. Under this definition, there are no absolutely successful people, but on the other hand, there are a great many more "mostly" successful people than there are those who occupy the "top spot."
      • by drsquare (530038)

        If everyone put in 10,000 hours training, then everyone would be 10,000 hours more educated, more knowledgeable and more skilful. And as a result, the whole world would be more successful.

    • by tsa (15680)

      Whoossh!! That was the sound of sarcasm flying over many /.-ers heads.

      I was going for funny but now I'm Insightful? Come on, please mod me down.

  • Rich Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ISoldat53 (977164) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:02PM (#25771393)
    It doesn't hurt to have very well-to-do parents.
    • by argiedot (1035754)
      That's true, but they have to be something more than just indulgent. I've seen quite a few kids with rich parents who do nothing but watch TV, hang out and play on their PS3s.

      I think after the level where the stuff they can provide matches the stuff you're really interested in (rather than just for the novelty) it doesn't make much of a difference.
    • Re:Rich Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:19PM (#25771493) Homepage

      It doesn't hurt to have very well-to-do parents.

      It does help. It knocks years off the time it takes to get to the point that you have enough assets to do something.

      In the US, having rich parents gives more of an edge than it did fifty years ago. Few kids used to attend private schools, and if they did, they were probably Catholic. Now, there's a whole system of high-end schools and activities for rich kids. There's heavy institutional support for getting into the right college. Fifty years ago, there were SATs, but nobody took special SAT preparation courses. This is reflected in the rising correlation between the parents income and the child's income.

      • Re:Rich Parents (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mattwarden (699984) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:43PM (#25771625) Homepage

        > Few kids used to attend private schools, and if they did, they were probably
        > Catholic. Now, there's a whole system of high-end schools and activities for
        > rich kids.

        That has a ton more to do with the federal government's failure of the public education system than it does rich parents. In fact, the household income threshold where people below that threshold would attend public schools is moving further further toward the lower-middle class. That suggests a strong shift in household spending priorities, which is partially due to education competition but even moreso due to the failure of the public school system. Many many families are paying double for education (taxation to fund public schools, tuition to pay the school they actually utilize and benefit from).

        > There's heavy institutional support for getting into the right college. Fifty
        > years ago, there were SATs, but nobody took special SAT preparation courses.
        > This is reflected in the rising correlation between the parents income and
        > the child's income.

        I think you are right, partially. But, again, I think you are missing the fact that current education does not properly prepare students for college, and therefore does not adequately prepare them for the SATs and ACTs. Both my sister and I did not bother with those courses, but we were fortunate enough to have a single parent raising two children who worked very, very hard to send us to schools that would actually prepare us for professional success.

        I will say, though, that I must be lacking in the math department, because I have never been able to figure out how she was able to afford the private school tuition (although, I do know that our high school had funds available to subsidize the tuition of those with less income, and we did receive some of that subsidy -- further evidence that private schooling could actually work).

    • The article says that Steve Jobs was not from a rich family, unlike Gates

      It also says:

      one of the most respected executives in the software world, Steve Ballmer.

      Is that really a reflection of Ballmer's reputation? I would have though "nothing like as good at running MS as Gates was" is more accurate.

      • by Draek (916851)

        I would have though "nothing like as good at running MS as Gates was" is more accurate.

        Is it, really? someone is bound to mod me down for this (defending M$, WTF) but, IMHO Ballmer has been much better than Gates at running Microsoft. He seems, to me, to regard competitors with contempt, as if nobody could ever touch Microsoft, which is much better than the open hostility Gates usually showed. As a result, I've seen much less 'extinguish'ing than usual from them, which can only be a good thing, both for Microsoft themselves, and for the rest of the world.

    • by Dripdry (1062282)

      THIS.

      I'm sorry, but as a person whose business it is to know money, this is repeatedly the main factor. If you are in a well-to-do family, you have more opportunities than others, you know how to act around rich people, and you have the contacts.

      I've also met people who have pulled themselves up from poverty to success, however they are very few and far between, especially compared to the many people I've met who are lucky enough to be born into money and opportunity.

      I am guilty of this to an extent. My fam

    • A look at the Forbes 400 richest shows this to be the case. While ordinarily, looking at individuals is not helpful, concentration of capital is so skewed that in this case it is. Because Forbes 400 richest Americans collectively have more wealth than the world's poorest 2.5 billion people. So let's take a look.

      Bill Gates III. The III should give it away. His father was a millionaire, one of Seattle's most prominent lawyer's and was instrumental in Microsoft's early success. Gates's mother was on cha

    • by wikinerd (809585)
      Sometimes it can hurt, though. A young person experiencing poverty can acquire the psychological drive to get rich (but also to commit suicide or give up etc so it's not clear-cut). A young person living in a rich family may never live the necessary experiences that create the psychological need for wealth accumulation (but also more easily absord the value system that assists in wealth accumulation and also make connections, so it's also not clear-cut).
  • "Bill Gates .. Brilliant young maths wiz .."

    The Pivot Table ..

    "The whole idea of time-sharing only got invented in 1965"

    timesharing John McCarthy 1957 [stanford.edu]
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:39PM (#25771591) Homepage

    It does help to be in the right place at the right time. But you get to pick where you are. Moving from New York to Silicon Valley in 1974 worked out very well for me.

    Twentysomethings who went to San Francisco in 1998 for the dot-com boom did OK, although not for long. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of twentysomethings in SF dropped 40% when the dot-com boom collapsed.

    You can work hard and still guess wrong, though. If you thought that fusion power was going to be big, and spent the necessary years to get a doctorate in nuclear physics, you're probably not working in that field now.

    There's nothing right now that looks as promising as the great booms of the past - railroads, automobiles, electricity, radio, aviation, plastics, computing, the Internet. The smart young people I know seem to be going into either biotech or law, but neither field is really booming. I have hopes for robotics, but it's not having a boom yet.

    • by polar red (215081)

      There's nothing right now that looks as promising as the great booms of the past - railroads, automobiles, electricity, radio, aviation, plastics, computing, the Internet. The smart young people I know seem to be going into either biotech or law, but neither field is really booming. I have hopes for robotics, but it's not having a boom yet.

      how about power? wind, solar, but that's just a matter of investing enough money. the tech is already available ...

      • by Animats (122034)

        how about power? wind, solar

        Well, I know someone who has a Solar Universe [solaruniverse.com] franchise, but you have to be comfortable climbing on roofs.

        • by tinrobot (314936)

          The big money is never in selling/installing existing technology, it's about creating new/better/cheaper technology.

          Plenty of room for improvement in the areas of battery/storage technology, solar power, wind power, tidal power, power distribution, etc... etc...

          It will be the next boom and it will happen a LOT sooner than you expect.

  • Port 23? (Score:4, Funny)

    by IceCreamGuy (904648) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:42PM (#25771619) Homepage
    At first glance I read "Success Not Just a Matter of Telnet..."
  • Access to funds/influence is usually a non-trivial prerequisite for success. Did Gates or Jobs have "connections"?

    No slur or sneer at them if they did, but that tends to help a lot.

    These days with the internet it's much easier to get an idea out and looked at.
    • by westlake (615356)
      Access to funds/influence is usually a non-trivial prerequisite for success. Did Gates or Jobs have "connections"?
      .

      Microsoft went from $22,000 in revenues to $1 million in about three years.

      Its business was publishing the must-have versions of BASIC, FORTRAN and COBOL for damn near every commercially significant micro in the eight bit era.

      Those were "the connections" that mattered.

  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann.slash ... m ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday November 15, 2008 @02:55PM (#25771689) Homepage Journal

    The other day I looked at a book entitled "What would Machiavelli do?". In the back it said something about people not achieving success despites their talent. The book then asked a question: Why is it that some people who are not as talented, obtain success? Are they smarter? Stronger? No. They're simply more evil.

    I'm sure Bill Gates read that book and applied it accordingly, screwing the lives of everyone just for his personal gain.

    • by drsquare (530038)

      Yes, the lives of people all over the world have been ruined by mass-market home computing.

    • Why is it that some people who are not as talented, obtain success? Are they smarter? Stronger? No. They're simply more evil.

      Dr. Evil: You're not quite evil enough. You're semi-evil. You're quasi-evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil, just one calorie, not evil enough.

    • by Alomex (148003)

      Are they smarter? Stronger? No. They're simply more evil.

      This is extremely self-serving: "see Ma, I'm a failure not because I'm a dead beat who lives in the basement and doesn't even look for a job, but because I'm not evil like all those other successful people out there".

      Can we mod the parent (Score 5: Self-serving)?

  • Born Lucky (Score:3, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:01PM (#25771729) Homepage Journal

    Bill Gates is William Henry Gates IV. His father, Bill Sr [wikipedia.org] (born "III") was one of America's top corporate lawyers, as was his mother. That's why Microsoft was able to outmaneuver IBM on a one-way exclusive contract for PC DOS, and later even weasel out of the "landmark" US monopoly judgement (the senior Gates' lobbying lawfirm Preston Gates & Ellis [wikipedia.org] was where Republican uberlobbyist Jack Abramoff got his start [wikipedia.org] until Bush's "Justice" Department took over the "penalty" phase).

    I'd rather be lucky than good any day. For Bill Gates, that's his birthright.

    • Re:Born Lucky (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:10PM (#25771769)

      Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. -Barry Switzer

    • by westlake (615356)
      That's why Microsoft was able to outmaneuver IBM on a one-way exclusive contract for PC DOS
      .

      Gates was selling an MBASIC interpreter to damn near everyone on the planet who bought a PC. He didn't need Dear Old Dad to tell him to keep his independence from IBM The deal was never exclusive - that is what made it so profitable. There were competing MSDOS machines on the market before the cloning of the PC BIOS.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        No, Gates needed his corporate lawyer parents and their pick to be MS's lawyer to help him actually negotiate with IBM. Including waiting for the IBM execs who were against exclusivity to be out of town when Gates finally cut a better deal with their temporary replacements.

        The deal was most certainly exclusive, in Gates' favor: IBM was excluded from using any other OS, but Gates could license DOS to any other PC maker. Gates even negotiated a "concession" to IBM: if IBM wanted to make a successor to DOS, AK

  • by JamesP (688957) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:14PM (#25771797)

    once I get my 10k hours of slashdot...

  • by opencity (582224) on Saturday November 15, 2008 @03:41PM (#25771935) Homepage

    Wasn't it Feynman who said something along the lines of "You only discover America once"?

    To me there's always a new wave to surf. I had a friend waxing bitter in about 1996 about how he'd missed the golden age of garage innovation. That there was never going to be another Apple. There hasn't been, but there was a Google.

    The 10,000 hours number seems weird ... I tell beginner musicians that there is a certain amount of pain and boredom before it starts to get fun. I usually randomly pull a number between 10 and 25 hrs out of the air.

    So 4 hours a day on the piano is 2,500 days. Round up to 7 years. Sounds about right.

  • How many hours do the Slashdot dupe checkers have under their belts?

  • The guy (Malcolm Gladwell) conflates (at least) being rich, being talentuous / a genius, being well-known (successful), being born at the right time...

    Ensues a complete mess he can only sort out by carefully choosing his examples to fit his opinion.

  • Just about _anyone_ who owned the rights to the OS that IBM distributed with their first widely distributed PC would have become the world's richest man.

    Gates had a talent: Being born into a family that had the connections to let him broker a deal between IBM and the guy who wrote MS-DOS.

    Gladwell is a sycophant.

  • It examines reasons for their successes and strongly suggests a link between practice (10,000 hours by age 20 being the magic milestone) and luck.

    Luck certainly is a factor. But 10,000 hours of practice isn't going to do jack shit without talent. All it will do is take you to the limits of your talent. Again, that partly assumes you had some good guidance during that training. Which will be partly luck - you happen to be born in proximity to a good coach, or not - if that coach is scouring the area for tal

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers

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