steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Of Chance and Chimpanzees

Give a million chimpanzees typewriters, and one of them may end up writing a sonnet by coincidence, they say. Even so, no one will think that chimp is a poet.

Equally, give a million entrepreneurs a start-up loan, and they will make various business and investment decisions. Some will pay off, many will crash and burn; but perhaps at the end of it all, one of that million will be a billionaire. That billionaire will not be treated like the lucky chimp, though. On the contrary, they will be interviewed by Forbes magazine about their business philosophy, and in general will be treated as if their wealth were entirely the result of their savviness and cunning, rather than the likely result of a million coin tosses. Since human beings are inclined to narrativise history (especially their own) they will likely come to believe this themselves, seeing purposefulness and connection between events that were in large measure unpredictable and serendipitous.

The cases are of course not exactly alike. Diligence, intelligence and imagination will indeed give some entrepreneurs a better shot at success than others; but theirs is a trade where chance is far more responsible for success than it is generally given credit for. I feel similarly about generalship, and indeed any profession so at the mercy of an environment full of unpredictable “noise”. “Pang Juan will Die under this Tree” is a great story, but I don’t believe it’s history. Similarly, whenever I see the latest business guru’s book of ideas, I read it as if were entitled Shakesepeare – My Way, by Bono the Bonobo.
Tags: maunderings
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