Versione in Italiano




University of Catania


What matters most to achieve success in our life?

Talent or luck?

Are the most successful people also the most talented?

How important is it to be in the right place at the right time?

Between a talented but unfortunate person and a mediocre but very lucky person, who will win?




Talent vs Luck:

The Role of Randomness in Success and Failure


Advances in Complex Systems - Vol. 21, No. 03n04, 1850014 (2018)











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On September 15th 2022 our study was awarded with the Ig Nobel prize for Economics (for two of us this was the second Ig Nobel prize after that of 2010 for Management!):




A film on our study realized by Mario Mele:






The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, smartness, efforts, willfulness, hard work or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success. But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories. It is very well known that intelligence (or, more in general, talent and personal qualities) exhibits a Gaussian distribution among the population, whereas the distribution of wealth - often considered a proxy of success - follows typically a power law (Pareto law), with a large majority of poor people and a very small number of billionaires. Such a discrepancy between a Normal distribution of inputs, with a typical scale (the average talent or intelligence), and the scale invariant distribution of outputs, suggests that some hidden ingredient is at work behind the scenes. In this paper, with the help of a very simple agent-based toy model, we suggest that such an ingredient is just randomness. In particular, we show that, if it is true that some degree of talent is necessary to be successful in life, almost never the most talented people reach the highest peaks of success, being overtaken by mediocre but sensibly luckier individuals. As to our knowledge, this counterintuitive result - although implicitly suggested between the lines in a vast literature - is quantified here for the first time. It sheds new light on the effectiveness of assessing merit on the basis of the reached level of success and underlines the risks of distributing excessive honors or resources to people who, at the end of the day, could have been simply luckier than others. With the help of this model, several policy hypotheses are also addressed and compared to show the most efficient strategies for public funding of research in order to improve meritocracy, diversity and innovation.



Some links about our paper:



- Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure (Improbable research, 2018)


- MIT Technology Review: The Best of the Physics arXiv (week ending February 24, 2018)


- Talento o fortuna? Il ruolo del caso nel successo o nel fallimento (Il, 1 Marzo 2018)


- If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance (MIT Technology Review, March 1, 2018)


- The Role of Luck in Life Success is Far Greater Than We Realized (Scientific American, March 1, 2018)


- Successful people owe much more to LUCK than we thought: Being smart and talented ISN'T enough, say scientists

(MailOnline - Science and Tech, March 2, 2018)


- Life definitely isn’t fair, new research shows (Cosmos, The science of everything, March 2, 2018)


- Se siete così intelligenti, perché non siete ricchi? E’ solo per caso (Milano Finanza, 2 Marzo 2018)


- Life positively isn’t honest, new analysis exhibits (Cosmopolitan, 2 Marzo 2018)


- World's most successful people are simply the luckiest (News2Read, March 2, 2018)


- World's most successful people are simply the luckiest (Video News Technology, March 2, 2018)


- How much does luck play in being successful? (NZherald Business, March 3, 2018)


- If you’re so smart then why aren’t you rich? Here is the answer (Sky Valley Chronicle, March 3, 2018)


- So You're Smart, But You're Not Rich? This Eye-Opening New Scientific Study Tells You Why (INC., March 4, 2018)


- Better lucky than smart (Le Temps, March 4, 2018)


- Méritocratie ? La chance est déterminante pour devenir riche (Express Business, March 4, 2018)


- Talent vs. Luck! And the winner is... (Mind the Post, March 4, 2018)


- Successful people owe much more to luck than we thought (Sunday Times, March 4, 2018)


- Sorte é mais importante do que talento na busca pelo sucesso (, March 5, 2018)


- Meritocratic failure (Progressive Pulse, March 5, 2018)


- Il segreto del successo (Scienza, Tecnologia, Quisuilie e Pinzellacchere, 5 Marzo 2018)


- Success Comes Down to Skill - And a Lot of Luck (Discover Magazine, March 5, 2018)


- Warum Glück für Erfolg entscheidender ist als Talent (, March 7, 2018)


- Sa ndikon fati në të qenët i suksesshëm (, March 7, 2018)


- Vì sao ban thòng minh mà vàn khòng giàu? (TiaSàng Vietnam, March 7, 2018)


- Füüsikud: aeg on tunnistada õnne ja juhuslikkuse olulisust (Novaator Estonia, March 7, 2018)


- Selon une simulation informatique, la réussite financière est surtout une affaire de chance (, March 9, 2018)


- Ten interesting things that we read this week - Point 3 (Forbes India, March 10, 2018)


- The dirty secret about success (BBC Capital, March 10, 2018) - VIDEO


- Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure. Some Quick Thoughts On this Paper (Medium Corp., March 10, 2018)


- Luck: the loser's excuse (Politics&Prosperity, March 11, 2018)


- On Luck, Randomness and Success (Mercartto, March 11, 2018)


- Scientists Analysed The Secret to Becoming Rich, And Talent Is Not Part of It (Science Alert, March 11, 2018)


- Secondo la scienza la fortuna conta, eccome (, 12 Marzo, 2018)


- Sukses ditentukan oleh keberuntungan, bukan bakat ( Indonesia, March 12, 2018)


- Waarom hardwerkende talentvolle mensen niet per definitie succesvol zijn, en omgekeerd (, March 12, 2018)


- Cómo la suerte influye en el éxito o fracaso de las personas (, March 12, 2018)


- The Hidden Truth About Success (Thrillngr, March 12, 2018)


- Cette étude analyse les facteurs qui conduisent à la richesse, et le talent n’y est pour rien (Ulyces, March 12, 2018)


- Des scientifiques ont analysé le secret pour devenir riche, et il n'est pas dans le talent (Ohchouette, March 13, 2018)


- Il successo è dovuto alla fortuna, non al talento (In Dies NEWS, 13 Marzo 2018)


- Talento e Fortuna: il ruolo della casualità nel successo e nel fallimento (Fondazione Ottimisti e Razionali, 13 Marzo 2018)


- Pourquoi le talent ne garantit pas nécessairement la réussite (Le Vif, March 13, 2018)


- Toeval is boven alles de sleutel tot succes (Yoors, March 14, 2018)


- Ganar dinero no es sólo cuestión de talento (Tendencias Sociales, March 14, 2018)


- Forscher haben den Schlüssel zum Reichtum gefunden - und er hat nichts mit Talent zu tun (Business Insider, March 14, 2018)


- Success heeft meer met geluk te maken dan met talent (Metronieuws, March 14, 2018)


- Recreating the Talent vs Luck model (By Josh Balloch, March 14, 2018) - Related comments


- La suerte es más importante que el talento y la inteligencia (Muy Interesante, March 15, 2018)


- Mokslininkai: nei protas, nei talentai jusu turtingais nepadarys (INFA Lituania, March 16, 2018)


- Business Lessons from Jack Ma- Alibaba and the 40 SaaS (25iq, March 17, 2018)


- World’s most successful people are simply the luckiest (Express Digest, March 17, 2018)


- Si triunfas en la vida seguramente no sea ni por tu talento ni tu inteligencia (Noticias Venezuela, March 18, 2018)


- Talent, luck and success: simulating meritocracy and inequality with stochasticity (Medium Corporation, March 18, 2018)


- ¿Son los más inteligentes los que llegan a hacerse ricos? Un estudio dice tener la respuesta (El Blog Salmòn, March 19, 2018)


- Nicht nur Talent und Fleiß: Warum manche Menschen reich werden – und andere nicht (, March 19, 2018)


- Rethinking Work, Luck and Success (The Amherst Student, March 20, 2018)


- Are Richest People The Smartest? A New Study says No (Financial Wisdom, March 21, 2018)


- You’re smart. So why aren’t you worth $73.1 billion? (Thrive Global, March 21, 2018)


- Giving as real wealth of ‘human-omics’ (The Statesman, March 22, 2018)


- Are You Smart? Sorry, You Might Not End Up Rich (US News, March 23, 2018)


- A proposito di ricchezza e casualità (Steemit Russia, March 25, 2018)


- Luck, Luck, Luck (Triangulations, March 25, 2018)


- Carriere, lo studio: “La fortuna conta più del talento. Per questo i mediocri battono chi ha maggiori abilità” (Il Fatto Quotidiano, 28 Marzo 2018)


- Il segreto per il successo? “Il talento non basta, ci vuole fortuna”: uno studio catanese (Live Unict, 28 Marzo 2018)


- Giving as real wealth of 'human-omics' (The Dailystar - India, March 29, 2018)


- Crescita professionale, la fortuna può contare più del talento per fare carriera ( 29 Marzo 2018)


- How Luck Shapes Your Life - Part 1 (Psychology Today, March 29, 2018)

- How Luck Shapes Your Life - Part 2 (Psychology Today, March 29, 2018)


- Als jij zo slim bent waarom ben je dan niet schatrijk? ( Olanda, March 31, 2018)


- What Role Does Luck Play In Success? (Forbes US, April 2, 2018)


- El éxito no depende tanto del talento como de la suerte, afirma estudio (El Comercio Spain, April 5, 2018)


- Científicos descubren la clave del éxito (Blasting News Spain, April 6, 2018)


- Held betyder langt mere for succes i livet, end vi er klar over (Information, Danmark, April 7, 2018)


- Talent vs Luck:differentiating success from failure (True Economics, April 8, 2018)


- Sharing wealth is the best antidote to populism (The Irish Times, April 9, 2018)


- Võidujooksu asemel võimalused (Sirp - Eesti Kultuurileht, April 13, 2018)


- Il successo te lo dà Sancùlo, il talento conta molto poco (Libero, 14 Aprile 2018)

- «Talento? No, serve solo fortuna» Critiche al neo assessore Rizzoli (Corriere della Sera - Milano, 16 Aprile 2018)


- ¿Existe realmente la suerte? (Cuba Coopera, April 16, 2018)


- Basarõ kadere mi sansa mõ baglõ (Psikiyatr, April 19, 2018)


- La fortuna conta più del talento per fare carriera? (Radio 24: Intervista con Maria Latella, 22 Aprile 2018)


- Is control over your life just an illusion? Here's a game that has you making life decisions based on the roll of a die (, May 1, 2018)


- Talento o fortuna? Quale aspetto pesa di più nel determinare il successo di una persona? (The Box, 04 Maggio 2018)


- Talento o fortuna? di Riccardo Stucchi (Il, 07 Maggio 2018)


- Analysis: If you’re rich, you’re more lucky than smart. And there’s math to prove it (PBS - News Hour, May 15, 2018)

- Discussion in the Locker Room (May 18, 2018)


- Mathematics confirms rich people aren't smart—they're lucky (Bigthink, May 20, 2018)


- Proof that redistribution and equality provide the best outcomes for society and that fortunes are built on luck (Reddit, May 22, 2018)


- Meritocracy is a chimera (Forbes, May 29, 2018)


- KURIER LUBELSKI, Polonia July 09, 2018)


- Basarõ kadere mi sansa mõ baglõ (, Turkey July 09, 2018)


- Las rachas de éxito no dependen de aumentar el esfuerzo, sino que llegan por azar (El Pais, July 11, 2018)


- Skill vs luck: who really deserves the rewards from success? (The Conversation UK, July 16, 2018)


- Are rich people smart or just lucky? (A Better Man, July 24, 2018)


- On Luck (Marketcap, An investment commentary, September 06, 2018)


- Tre docenti etnei intervistati da una TV coreana (Bollettino di Ateneo, Università di Catania, 19 Settembre, 2018)


- Absolute success is luck, relative success is hard work (Dinar Recaps, September 20, 2018)


- Talent, Luck and Income Inequality (, October 04, 2018)


- De grootste mazzel in jouw loopbaan? (, October 19, 2018)


- Przypadek kontra mity - Chance against Myths (, October 21, 2018)


- Chance is king: eight ways we can deal with it (by Michael F. Bruyn, October 22, 2018)


- This study shows talent is overrated, and luck plays a huge role in success (by Greg McKenna, Business Insider Australia, November 22, 2018)


- Come si costruisce il successo (Focus Italia, Gennaio 2019)


- Siamo noi gli artefici della nostra fortuna? (di Gaia Giorgetti, "F" Settimanale Femminile, 20 Marzo 2019)


- The Success of Chance: 10th European Lotteries Congress (Antwerp, 26-29 May 2019) - VIDEO - SLIDES


- A 40-Year Scientific Study Reveals the Richest People Are Never the Most Talented - and Why That's a Really Good Thing (by Jeff Haden, August 1, 2019)


- Merito e successo sono correlati? (di Roberto Panzarani su, 20 Ottobre 2019)


- Talento vs. Suerte: un nuevo modelo matematico muestra que el exito es mas cuestion de suerte que de esfuerzo (, 23 de Octubre 2019)


- Luck, not just talent, in supposed meritocracy: A new documentary (Improbable Research, November 2019)


- Luck you! Acknowledging that your success is a function of both good fortune and talent may not be flattering, but it could make you a better leader (Theodore Kinni on, 01 November 2019)


- Per fare carriera ci vuole fortuna? (di Marco Lucarelli su, 13 Novembre 2019)


- Making your own look in your career (by Pavel Kaprivin, Forbes October 03, 2020)


- How to get smarter every day, according to neuroscience (by Jeff Haden, November 24, 2020)


- The long-term impact our boss has on our career (by Adi Gaskell, Forbes November 17, 2020)


- Are professors and football stars just lucky? (by Anna Beukenhorst, Significance Magazine May 06, 2022)











Other links about the relationships among success, talent and luck:



- Importante riconoscimento per Reggio Emilia: l'artista Emanuele Camerini tra i vincitori di "Cantica 21" con un'opera sul tema della fortuna (1 Dicembre, 2020)


- Quando una distopia diventa un'utopia: il mito della "meritocrazia" che produce il suo opposto (by Vittorio Pelligra sulla rubrica "Mind and Economy" de Il Sole 24 Ore, 6 Settembre 2020)


- Don't follow the leader: how ranking performance reduces meritocracy (by Giacomo Livan on Royal Society Open Science, November 6, 2019)


- Meritocracy is a myth invented by the rich (The, March 14, 2019)


- Success is more a game of chance than we’d like to admit (A.L.Barabasi on Linkedin, November 13, 2018)


- The radical moral implications of luck in human life (, October 02, 2018)


- Your success isn’t down to free will - luck determines everything (The Guardian International Ed., April 27, 2018)


- Profile: The Prime Minister, as revealed in the twelve qualities shared by successful holders of that office (Conservative Home UK, March 21, 2018)


- Ironies of luck (Collaborative Fund UK, March 14, 2018)


- Why are the wealthy so wealthy and the poor so poor? (Dr Len Fisher, December 19, 2017)


- Fooled by performance randomness: over-rewarding luck (QUT Business School, 2017)


- It's mostly luck, not pluck, that determines lifetime reproductive success (Cornell University, March 1, 2018)


- The success equation: untangling skill and luck (Michael Mauboussin: talk at Google, July 22, 2014)


- Connecting Luck, Success, and Taxes (Cornell Research)


- To be successful, make your own luck (The Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2018)


- It is never too late for success (Roberta Sinatra: talk at Complexity Science Hub Vienna, February 16, 2018)


- Does Success Come Mostly from Talent, Hard Work or Luck? (Scientific American, 2017)


- Why you shouldn't imitate Bill Gates if you want to be rich? (BBC Capital, 2017)


- Opinion: get rich has more to do with luck than talent (BBC Capital, 2017)


- The Luck vs Hard work Debate: what matters most in life success (, 2017)


- Is Success due to talent or luck? (The Balance, 2017)


- It’s time for us to admit that whether or not we succeed in life is mostly about luck (Quartz Media, 2017)


- Why winners don't take all (Finance & Development, 2016)


- Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think (The Atlantic, 2016)


- Robert Frank: Success and Luck? (Cornell University Video, 2015)


- Talent or luck? Why it's not easy to spot the stars of the future (The Guardian, 2012)


- Success equals talent plus luck (Psychology Today, 2012)


- Viewpoint:Luck or Talent? (Dawn, 2012)


- Luck vs Talent vs Skill (Forbes, 2009)




Books on analogous topics:


- R. H. Frank. ”Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy”. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey (2016)


- C. Hayes. "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy". Crown Publishing (2012)


- D. J. Watts. ”Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer”. Crown Business (2011)


- N. N. Taleb. ”Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets”. London, TEXERE (2001)


- N. N. Taleb. ”The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”. Random House (2007)


- B. Milanovic. "Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization", Harvard University Press (2016)




Links to our other studies about the role of chance in social systems:


- Peter Principle and random promotions strategies in hierarchical organizations


- Random promotions and IG Nobel Prize


- Accidental politicians:how randomly selected legislators can improve parliament efficiency


- Why Lot?  How sortition could help representative democracy


- Reducing financial avalanches by random trading


- Perfect information vs random investigation: safety guidelines for a consumer in the jungle of product differentiation


- Inequalities, chance and success in sport competitions: Simulations vs empirical data


- On the role of chance in fencing tournaments: An agent-based approach






J.L.Borges "The Lottery in Babylon"





(Scene from "Titanic", 1997)







(Beginning scene of "Match Point", 2005)







(Scene from "The curious case of Benjamin Button", 2008)







(Scene from "Forrest Gump", 1994)






(Trailer of "Sliding Doors", 1998)





(Final scene from "Slumdog Millionaire", 2008)






(Final scene from "Whatever Works", 2009)




Contacts of the Authors: