Sunday 24 April 2011

The Luck Of The Draw

"The neglect of silent evidence is endemic to the way we study comparative talent, particularly in activities that are plagued with winner-take-all attributes. We may enjoy what we see, but there is no point reading too much into success stories because we do not see the full picture.

The consequence of the superstar dynamic is that what we call "literary heritage" or "literary treasures" is a minute proportion of what has been produced cumulatively. This is the first point. How it invalidates the identification of talent can be derived immediately from it: say you attribute the success of the 19th century novelist Honoré De Balzac to his superior "realism", "insights", "sensitivity", "treatment of characters", "ability to keep the reader riveted", and so on. These may be deemed "superior" qualities that lead to superior perfomance if, and only if, those who lack what we call talent also lack these qualities. But what if there are dozens of comparable literary masterpieces that happened to perish? And, following my logic, if there are indeed many perished manuscripts with similar attributes, then I regret to say, your idol Balzac was just the beneficiary of disproportionate luck compared to his peers. Furthermore, you may be committing an injustice to others by favouring him."

Nassim Nicholas Taleb - "The Black Swan"

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