Buffett vs. Carnegie and Rand: The Role Of Luck In Success
WARREN BUFFETT: I’m not sure whether it’s intellectual or emotional, but when I was born in 1930 the odds were 40-to-1 against me being born in the United States as opposed to someplace else. I was a male. The odds were even money on that. So now I’m down to 80-to-1. You don’t want to bet on 80-to-1 shots normally, but I got lucky. As Bill says, if I’d been born a few thousand years ago I’d have been some animal’s lunch, because I’d have gone around saying, ‘Well, I allocate capital,’ you know, and the animal would say, ‘They’re the kind that tastes the best.’ I can’t run fast. And I can’t climb trees. And so here I am, by pure, pure luck, born at the right time, the right gender as it turned out, compared to my sisters who were just as smart or smarter than I am, in the right place and in a system where allocating capital pays off like crazy.
NAPOLEON HILL: Well, Mr. Carnegie, is it not true that success is often the result of “luck”?
ANDREW CARNEGIE: If you analyze my definition of success you will see that there is no element of luck about it. A man may, and sometimes men do, fall into opportunities through mere chance, or luck; but they have a queer way of falling out of these opportunities the first time opposition overtakes them.
A man may come in possession of opportunity by pull, but he can stay in possession of it only by push, and that calls for Definitiveness of Purpose!
And here is Ayn Rand, from her essay “An Untitled Letter” in Philosophy: Who Needs It:
I submit that any man who ascribes success to “luck” has never achieved anything and has no inkling of the relentless effort which achievement requires. I submit that a successful man who ascribes his own (legitimate) success in part to luck is either a modest, concrete-bound represser who does not understand the issue—or an appeaser who tries to mollify the resentment of envious mediocrities.