The Five Universal Laws of Success

In The Formula Albert László Barabási explains why people succeed or fail. He focuses on five “laws” and devotes a separate chapter to each.  I have presumed to add what seems to me to be an appropriate observation.

1. Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  African proverb

2. Performance is bounded, but success is unbounded.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Henry Ford

3. Previous success x fitness [high potential]= future success.

“Potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Darrell Royal

4. While team success requires diversity and balance, a single individual will receive credit for the group’s achievements.

That happens. However, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S Truman

5. With persistence success can come at any time.

“No, I don’t paint all the time but when my muse visits me, I better have a brush in my hand.” Henri Matisse

In Chapter 7, for example, Barabási explains how quality defies social influence. He examines the results of experiments conducted by the MusicLab at Yahoo to answer this question: “How does popularity influence success?” About 14,000 young people (from grades 1-6) participated. The experiments were conducted at the Oak School, an elementary school in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in San Francisco.

Details of the experiments — including results — are best revealed within the narrative, in context, but I need no spoiler alert when suggesting that success can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Oak Hill’s teachers knew which of their students were identified as high potential so they encouraged brilliance. “The children responded by producing brilliance.”

According to Barabási, “Self-fulfilling prophecies suggest that, under the right circumstances, the weakest [whatever] can land at the top. But can a false belief in a person or a product’s value lead to lasting success? Or are we bound to notice, sooner or later, that the emperor has no clothes? Two years after the original experiment, the MusicLab went back to the drawing board, hoping to address this precise question.”

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Albert-László Barabási is the Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern University, where he directs the Center for Complex Network Research, and holds appointments in the Departments of Physics and College of Computer and Information Science, as well as in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women Hospital in the Channing Division of Network Science, and is a member of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success was published by Little, Brown and Company (2018).
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