Success Isn’t Fair, And Here’s Why
… that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill…
One hundred and fifty four years ago, Fredrik Idestam established a large industrial facility that converted timber, wood chips, and other wood products into wood pulp, which was further used to produce paper, cardboard or other products. In 1868, he opened another pulp mill on the banks of river Nokianvirta, a waterbody that inspired the ubiquitously echoed brand name, Nokia.
The company was a conglomerate with several disparate businesses — paper, cable, rubber, and electronics — operating under a new Nokia corporation.
But by the early 90s, during the fresh buzz for cell phones, executives divested other parts of the company save the telecom division. It went on to develop its first smartphone in 1996 and had built a prototype of a touch-screen, Internet-enabled phone at the end of the nineties.
Nokia was set to storm the future. It was at an unbeatable pace. And the world could attest to that.
Now, scaling on the telecom ladder requires quality software, the core part of innovation in a booming tech era. But Nokia was chiefly a hardware company rather than a software company. This was obvious in the durability of their products. The company had underrated the importance of software, exalting the position of hardware engineers to the detriment of software experts. So, it’s no surprise that the next decade saw the rapid rise of Nokia, followed by a sharp decline in its market value.
There was a new kid on the block. Apple. It was the cool kid that made the neighbours (consumers) laugh and always brought a new keg to the party. Who wouldn’t want to be around that!
To shed more light on Nokia’s demise, let’s look at a 2015 study conducted by professors Timo O. Vuori and Quy N. Huy.
Upon successful investigations and interviews with 76 Nokia top and middle managers, engineers, and external experts, the professors found that by overrating the strength of its brand and underrating the importance of software as well as the transition ratings of smartphones, Nokia created a structure of organizational reluctance to waltz into a new era.
Top and middle managers were struck by a combination of organizational attention structures and historical factors. The result was a storm of shared fear within operations.
While middle managers robed the fear for internal groups, including superiors and peers, top managers were fearful of external competitors and shareholders. Executives were afraid to publicly acknowledge the inferiority of Symbian, Nokia’s operating system, in comparison with Apple. This posed a great threat to the company’s success.
Middle managers arrested their tongues from sharing negative information with top managers. And top managers exerted pressure on middle managers, without fully revealing the severity of existing external threats. They also interpreted middle managers’ communications in biased ways.
Top managers swan in unchecked optimism. They focused on technological strength (mostly hardware) and neglected long-term investments in developing innovation.
The established organisational reluctance caressed an institutional fear that led to staff intimidation, suppressed communication, and temporal myopia — a focus on short-term product innovation at the expense of long-term innovation development.
The story of Nokia exemplifies the classic case of a company basking in its past success. A regular mistake made by market-dominating brands.
It tells us that the race isn’t to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, a common truth in the business world which has seen the fall of several pioneer brands that once existed as household names.
QDOS was a pioneer of personal-computer operating systems that was demoted by Microsoft. Myspace was an earlier online social network that preceded Facebook. AltaVista, a pioneer of Internet search, was demoted by Google.
Pioneer brands (PB) often lose to innovator brands (IB) that introduce ease to consumers. The PBs create a novel product, they excel for years, then another industrial revolution sets in, the comfortable PBs cling to their intuition and fear to bring in something new that could ruin their market position, an IB comes into the market with a modern product, consumers punish the PB for not adapting and innovating, the IB scales, the PB gets kicked out.
This is what Gerard J. Tellis describes as The Columbus Effect in Business.
Pioneering is glorious, but later entrants are often the ones who see the true potential of discoveries.
Long-term market leaders seldom are pioneers. Rather, they are the ones who appreciate the discoveries of pioneers, envision the mass market and exploit it profitably.
But this is not a story about Nokia. It isn’t about the fall from grace to grass. It’s about time and chance, the true determinants of success, and why you should focus on them.
Now, we could agree that pace and strength do not determine success. But what if intelligence came into the picture. What if humans were endowed with a confluence of pace, strength, and a high measure of intelligence. The answer to this is represented by geniuses like Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who possessed high intelligence quotient. Or, is it?
Christopher Michael Langan began talking at 6 months old. Way ahead of his peers, he skipped classes and started his schooling in third grade, excelled academically, and took up independent studies by age 12.
During a 1990s feature in an Esquire magazine article by journalist Mike Sager, Chris said;
they didn’t know what to teach me anymore, but nobody was going to take me out and put me in college on the fast track, so I just did what they told me. I went to study hall and worked on my own, taught myself advanced math, physics, philosophy, Latin and Greek, all that.
The 68-year-old is undoubtedly a genius; ranked alongside Einstein, on lists of the smartest people of all time. But if genius guaranteed success, why isn’t Chris Langan a prominent figure across the world?
At the time of his feature in Esquire magazine, Chris was 42. He earned $6,000 a year and lived in a tiny, cluttered one-room cabin overlooking a field of heavy machinery in Eastport, Long Island, which he shared with his cat, and his 1985 shovelhead Harley-Davidson, parked near the sink in his kitchen.
By then, his status in academia had come to a spiralling end. Having been offered two scholarships after high school, he quit college through a convolution of frustrations from frivolous matters.
For a man with an IQ measure of 195, who began reading at three years old, society’s ratings would expect the rise of a flabbergasting inventor with immense riches.
But Being the smartest man in the world isn’t a title that you can directly monetize. Chris is simply a working-class genius that lived through an abusive and poverty-ridden childhood.
Having a high IQ means that beyond your polymathic capacity, you are 10 times more likely to over analyse basic information and people’s action. This is likely to affect your relationship with others. And as we well know, relationships are important for navigating this thing called life.
The blessing part of high intelligence is that it seems that you’re equipped with a telescope and a microscope, and other people have binoculars and a magnifying glass. The curse part is probably when you have a feeling that there is so much that you could be doing but haven’t lived up to the possibilities. _Steve Schuessler, with an IQ of 185
Gina LoSasso, who has an IQ around 168 believes that high intelligence works against you, because mundane things are very difficult, and the world is full of mundane things structured for the average person. Waiting in line, paying bills, filling out forms, taking required courses, driving her son to school, answering routine questions, following arbitrary rules — life to her can sometimes be excruciatingly dull. Another difficult obstacle, she says, is finding the patience to communicate properly with others. _ Sager writes.
By now, it’s obvious that IQ measures do not ensure success. And the reason may stem from its relationship with other forms of intelligence — practical, creative, analytical, and emotional.
We learn about these important feathers of intelligence by the Psychologist, Robert Sternberg, who explains that Practical intelligence is our ability to understand and interact with our environment in multiple contexts; a creatively intelligent human is able to develop creative and useful ideas; analytical intelligence is the ability to evaluate information and solve problems.
And from Daniel Goleman’s book, we understand that emotional intelligence is a force that can be used to build both ourselves and the relationships we seek to sustain.
Intelligent behaviour is a balanced twinning of these different intellectual abilities. This will result in successful intelligence within particular sociocultural contexts.
When we climb up the ladder of success determinants, we find skills. They say a person’s talent will set them in the presence of kings. It’s a well-spoken and somewhat truthful proverb. But does this truth always manifest in reality?
We’ve all heard the stories of talented humans that lose brilliant ideas to intellectual property parasites. The act of sexual exploitation in exchange for a successful musical career. The auto resentment that halts the growth of a skilled person within an institution — The kind that says “No particular reason, but I just don’t like this person and I will show them through demeaning words and sheer disregard for their quality work.”
Being skilled isn’t a ticket for altruistic favours. It doesn’t guarantee an individual’s rise to fame.
You might be a prodigy of some sort or the creator of an unprecedented product. Your kid might be the smartest in their class. Heck, you might even be the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread. But none of these matter, if you don’t understand the roles of time and chance in success.
Time is a dynamic element. It’s a seasonal flow of opportunities and can, to an extent, be controlled with hard work and the two opportunity bases.
The first base opportunities — or 1BOs — are advantages that play a foundational role in the outcome of an individual’s life.
Had Chris Langan been born into a more stable home, perhaps he would’ve turned out as a global gem. Even Joe Goldberg from the Netflix series, YOU, could’ve turned off the psychopathic switch if he’d been showered with a warm childhood.
Community is an important part of our existence. It serves as a safe space that fuels our sense of belonging, improving our health, motivation, and happiness. So, when our first contact with a community — the family we’re born into which plays a key role in the formation of our mindset — fails, our perception toward life becomes altered with a taint of hopelessness and negativity.
Time is also controllable with other elements. Advantages that can be capitalized with the right skills. These are the second base opportunities — or 2BOs. Nokia’s descent is largely credited to the software boom of the early 2000s, a single reminder that Market shifts happen all the time — economists call this industrial revolution — and changes the trajectory of the future. Today, the future is being built with sprinkles of new technology; AI, Data science, robotics, and others. Like we’ve seen in businesses, individuals can win in the future by tailoring current actions to these booming industries. This is how you control the economic advantage of time.
And it’s worth noting that market shifts have a relationship with age, which serves as an opportunity in several contexts. From classroom and sports maturity grouping to our soft appraisal for gifted youths, age is advantageous to the younger generation. And no, this doesn’t mean that those beyond their 20s cannot thrive in the modern world.
The only obstacle to this might be the perception of the older youth. After a certain age, some adults dismiss new inventions as a toy for the younger generation. They feel too old for it and stick with ancient models. Remember what that type of thinking did to Nokia?
Chance is a celestial element that cements our predictions. It’s the unexpected death of a loved one, our birth into a specific family and nation, the providential lottery wins, and other inadvertent encounters. It’s the things that we can’t control.
Time and chance heighten inequality in global success rates. Still, these elements are its core determinants.
Some of us may not be as lucky as others. We may not be robed with good communities, age, or a functional national economy. But it helps to know that we share the commonality of chance and can control time — to a certain degree — with a web of intentional hard work in our ventures.
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. _Ecclesiastes 9:11