Absolute Success is Luck & Relative Success is Hard Work, How to Get Luck on Your Side

  1. Buffett has told this story on multiple occasions. The quotes in this section are a combination of his versions from the 1997 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting and a speech he gave to students at the University of Florida in 1998. The quotes have been lightly edited for clarity. Also, I’d like to thank J.D. Roth as I originally discovered this story through his site, Get Rich Slowly.
  2. 5.8 billion was the number of people in the world in 1997. Today, that bucket would contain over 7.6 billion balls.
  3. I believe Buffett is paraphrasing a moral theory known as the “Veil of Ignorance” and originally proposed by the philosopher John Rawls. Buffett (and Rawls) use this thought experiment as a way to discuss what the types of social systems we should build in society. Buffett finishes by saying, “Now, what kind of world do you want to design? You’re going to want a system that does not leave behind the person who accidentally got the wrong ball and is not well-wired for this particular system.”
  4. 2014 Letter to Berkshire Shareholders by Warren Buffett.
  5. “From branch to bedside: Youyou Tu is awarded the 2011 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for discovering artemisinin as a treatment for malaria” by Ushma S. Neill. September 12, 2011.
  6. “Chinese Scientist Wins Nobel Prize in Medicine; China Hails the Laureate with Reflection” by Luxiao Zou. October 6, 2015.
  7. Tweet from @mmay3r. May 26, 2017.
  8. “Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure” by Pluchino. A. E. Biondo, A. Rapisarda.
  9. This is an adaptation of a quote from Matt Ridley, “One of the peculiar features of history is that time always erodes advantage.”
  10. The same can be said for bad luck. The particular hardship you go through is bad luck and random, but that you experience some hardship is not. Life comes from everyone at some point. This is one reason why it is important to practice inversion and prepare for hardship even though you do not know which form it will take.
  11. I believe this idea of “increasing your surface area for luck” originally came from The Startup of You by Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman, but I heard about it through Greg Nance.
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