A Product of Dumb Luck

When I arrived in my MBA program last October I had to spend a bit of time preparing my backstory. All my classmates are in their twenties and have yet to start their careers, whereas on some measures I’ve done quite well for myself already. I had to come up with a way to explain it without my coming across as a complete d-head. During a car trip to Bern with a fellow student, I emphasised the importance dumb luck played in me achieving a relatively comfortable standard of living, rather than my sheer brilliance.

First off, I chose my parents carefully and was born with above average intellect into a stable, middle class family. These two alone are the markers of probably around 80% of life outcomes, unless your parents smoke crack pipes in the living room (mine didn’t). I was fortunate enough that my dad earned enough money to send me to a school which, for all its faults, got me the grades to get into a decent university. Secondly, I happened to stumble into the oil industry during the biggest boom it had ever seen, complete with skyrocketing salaries which were sustained for more than a decade. Sure, I made stuff happen by making a few smart decisions, working (when absolutely necessary), and taking opportunities when they arose, but without those two things I’d be nothing.

Thanks to my being a well-educated, white collar professional who enjoyed a lucrative career, most of my social circle is the same. From those who rode the oil boom with me, particularly those who got in early, most are millionaires (asset-wise) with multiple properties, international marriages, children in expensive private schools, and who enjoy luxury foreign family holidays at least once per year. Turning up at my school, I found this describes many of my professors, too. Often when I’m introduced to people in my social circle, I find them to be very intelligent, successful, and staggeringly rich by the standards of even the last generation.

The trouble is, I’ve detected a severe lack of self-awareness among what I can accurately describe as my social peers. It takes the form of a sneering, dismissive attitude towards anyone they deem “uneducated”, which means they hold views they disagree with. It appears to be the policy in my business school that lecturers make a random, disparaging remark about Trump once per session, without stopping for a single second to put themselves in the shoes of those who voted for him. If challenged to do so, they’re dismissed as uneducated racists who were manipulated by his fearmongering lies. Similarly, those who voted for Britain to leave the European Union are routinely insulted by phenomenally wealthy people in my social group who’ve done extraordinarily well from the status quo, and blithely assume anyone who hasn’t is stupid or lazy. Unfortunately, thanks to my membership of Facebook, I have to see this every day from people who really ought to – what’s that term? – check their privilege.

There is nothing uglier in a person than a lack of self-awareness, particularly an inability to appreciate that there by the grace of God go I. Yes, we all worked to get where we are, some of us damned hard, but sheer luck played a large part as well. Too many of my social peers are trapped in a self-delusional bubble which is, quite frankly, turning otherwise decent people into a-holes. A lengthy career in an international oil major, where sneering down your nose at the lower ranks is actively encouraged, can scarcely help with that. When I moved to France I gradually started mixing with people who weren’t oil industry professionals or expatriates, and nowadays my social circles are made up of many such people. Some of them earn less in a year than my oil industry colleagues spend on the education of a single child in the same period. I’ve noticed you don’t hear them airily dismiss whole swathes of society as readily as those in my more natural social circle. Indeed, they tend not to mention politics at all. These days, voting is a middle class hobby; for those lower down, nothing changes no matter who gets in. I have friends who express opinions which would make my other friends choke on their organic veggie burgers. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but given who they are and where they come from, I can see why they think that way.

I’ll wrap this up by saying I have a good friend who has done very well for himself as an international banker, and is very well-educated and wealthy by any standards. But he remains extremely down to earth, and can rub along with anyone. Why? A child immigrant, he grew up in his parents’ restaurant in the (almost) Deep South. As he put it:

“If you’ve grown up scrubbing pots in a kitchen full of Mexicans, it’s hard to get too far ahead of yourself.”

Indeed. I didn’t have a hard life, and most difficulties were self-inflicted out of pure masochism. I got lucky. If I didn’t make the effort, I might not know how the other side live. I’m glad I did, and I do. I wish more of my peers did.

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51 thoughts on “A Product of Dumb Luck

  1. Tim,
    My first minimum-wage paid job was stacking supermarket shelves and having to deal with customers. The way some of them treated you, I think slaves got a better deal. I promised myself that when I was in the position of being able to go around buying things from others, I’d never, ever behave like that. And I think I haven’t.

    The sense of entitlement, privilege and scorn among many people who–through luck or inheritance–and the way they think of those less fortunate than themselves is palpable.

    The “attitude” to all those people–over 50% they seem to forget–who voted Leave is to be heard to be believed.

    Why should professors at a top-notch business school be any different? Broader minds? Hardly.

    My take is that we’ve lost a lot from abolishing National Service as a rite of passage where the privileged rubbed up, and were sometimes led by, the unwashed. Rubbing shoulders and depending on a guy from the East End who’s dad ran a veg stall quickly makes one appreciate those who differ from us.

    But the “success” bubble needs to be pricked somehow. Maybe the privileged in the UK might think differently about things after a Labour term–or two.

    Whatever, the complacency of the “elite” in the face of evident issues with the less fortunate in society has to be addressed. It’s stupid and condescending to think Brexit voters are “stupid and ill informed”.

    Perhaps your profs aren’t so great after all?

  2. The “attitude” to all those people–over 50% they seem to forget–who voted Leave is to be heard to be believed.

    I find it obscene. And then they talk about “divisive politics”.

    a top-notch business school

    Steady on. 😉

  3. Perhaps your profs aren’t so great after all?

    I’ve discovered a lot of smart people who really know a given subject display a startling lack of intellectual curiosity outside of it. It’s as though they’ve rote-learned their subject matter to a high proficiency, engaged in some critical thinking thereafter, but not applied it to much else. It’s how you can get genuine experts in complex subjects making remarks on serious, separate matters which sound as though they’ve been lifted from The Guardian.

  4. Nicely put. I’m from an average Liverpool working class background and by working class I mean it in the old sense as in actually working and contributing to society in any way possible. Through memory and family history I’m aware just how far I’ve come materially from preceding generations and I’m grateful everyday. Grammar school and politics at liverpool university didn’t manage to (thankfully?) knock off my rougher edges and my political and social views would make most ‘decent’ folk choke but I’m happy and content in myself so I guess its all worked out fine, but having money, big house etc has never meant feeling superior to anyone.

  5. It can come at you from within as well. I am from a working class background and have done relatively well for myself, my mother did too on a professional level later on in her life. During her and my sisters visit at Christmas there was an underlying division on views on Trump, Brexit and Global Warming with both my mother and sister diametrically opposed to me on them, which there is nothing wrong with and it was nothing serious but its an interesting phenomenon nonetheless.

  6. It’s also such an uneducated position to take. I mean, as JBP is fond of pointing out, IQ and Trait Conscientiousness only account for around half of career success in cognitively demanding occupations.
    So of course the other half is a rag-bag of luck, nepotism, good health, etc, etc, etc. It’s not an opinion. It’s in the data.

  7. I’ve somewhat ping ponged back and forth in my life, from a private primary school to my local comp to a top uni and now living and working in London. What I’ve noticed:
    1. The most right wing people I know are those from my secondary school. Mostly from a live and let live perspective (mostly they don’t care about politics) but also grounded in the concept of respect. If you are in someone else’s home/area/country then you respect that person/people and their rules. This seems nearly an alien concept to my primary school/uni/work colleagues who feel entitled to everything from everyone.
    2. The people most opposed to the lazy unemployed are my secondary school friends. They are the ones who grew up/ now have to work to earn the same as the useless unemployed who are on benefits through their own laziness. Again, alien to the uni/work group.
    3. The people most supportive of others’ success were my secondary school friends. After getting an earful for months from my uni crowd (all lefty, of course) for getting a lucrative job out of uni (and how evil I am bla bla bla) it was my home friends who never left their hometown (and likely never will) who said “well done, you’ve worked hard for that and earnt it.”

    You then look at all journalists/politicians/lawyers/civil servants etc and see they all came from the more selfish group of the above and see why we are in the position we are in.

  8. A good deal of the arrogance comes from the decline of religion IMO.

    I grew up is a quite privileged household (tho more asset and social connection rich and income poor) my parents were (and are) very religious people, and the mantra ‘Count your Blessings’ was one I heard many times as a child. The idea being that what you have you is the result of God’s gift, not your own puny efforts, and it can all be taken away by a wave of his hand, so to speak. Which I guess is a way of making someone humble, regardless of the whether the religious bits sink in.

    Another phrase my Mother often used (and still does) is ‘There but for the Grace of God go I’, when seeing some terrible situation on the news or in the papers, or just what some person she knows is having to cope with. Which again, takes some of the responsibility for success away from the individual.

    Take away all that religious underpinning, and suddenly people will get the idea that everything thats gone right for them is purely down to them, and thats bound to tend towards arrogance.

  9. I think I can trump your dumb luck.

    Despite getting a very good 11+ mark and being sent, against my parents wishes to the top grammar school in Huddersfield, it became obvious I was going to have to leave school at age 15 in ’72. I went to a career’s advice evening and all the uniformed services were there except the Army. I mentioned that in passing and 2 days later an Army SSgt knocked on the door.

    I discussed the Army with him and looked through some brochures. I was taken by a picture of a young soldier working on a very large radio that I would become to know as a D11. On the strength of that I took the aptitude and educations tests, got accepted on a Royal Signals radio technician apprenticeship, passed and never looked back.

    My career went -> Foreman of Signals -> Orange at the start of the mobile wave -> well paid boutique consultancy -> very well paid management consultancy -> take over boutique consultancy after bankruptcy of ADL -> couple of lucrative contracts -> 5 years with former client in senior position -> govt contract -> comfortable but not flash retirement aged 60. All based on looking at one photo. It was hard work but I know people who worked equally hard and weren’t as well rewarded both in monetary and job satisfaction terms. I loved the international projects.

    Of course everyone who has been successful shares one piece of luck – staying healthy. My youngest brother died of cancer 6 weeks before his 40th birthday.

    The trouble is, I’ve detected a severe lack of self-awareness among what I can accurately describe as my social peers. It takes the form of a sneering, dismissive attitude towards anyone they deem “uneducated”, which means they hold views they disagree with. It appears to be the policy in my business school that lecturers make a random, disparaging remark about Trump once per session, without stopping for a single second to put themselves in the shoes of those who voted for him. If challenged to do so, they’re dismissed as uneducated racists who were manipulated by his fearmongering lies

    We’ve discussed this before and its what the guy who coined the phrase meritocracy was warning against.

    I was at the Bristol Festival of Economics in 2017 and my feedback was how tedious it was that every single speaker and panellist, bar about 2, had started by signalling their anti Trump anti Brexit virtues.

  10. My father came from the slums of Bradford and mum was more lower middle class (granddad was a plumber), like Jim, “count your blessing’s” and “there but for the grace …” were phases I heard regularly.

  11. During my time in IBM I lost count of the people who described themselves as “not suffering fools gladly”. It’s a phrase from one of Paul’s epistles. If you read the whole verse, you will see that such people are describing themselves as fools.

  12. We’ve discussed this before and its what the guy who coined the phrase meritocracy was warning against.

    That’s a great article, and I can’t believe it’s 18 years old!

  13. “If you’ve grown up scrubbing pots in a kitchen full of Mexicans, it’s hard to get too far ahead of yourself.”

    I’ve often thought the rich would benefit from some kind of national service whereby they go off and do some unpleasant and menial job. Spending a year cleaning the public toilets would hopefully stop little Tarquin Jnr. getting too big for his boots, as well as giving him an idea of what it’s like to work in a crappy (in every sense of the term) job.

  14. It isn’t money.

    The people I know making 250+ in markets tend to be much more aware of the range of experiences in the world and impact of luck and effort.

    The people I know making 50k (but in govt jobs for life, and pensions that carry no investment risk and which are beyond the reach of the taxman) have a very narrow view of the world and are the most patronising.

    Exceptions to all, but pretty strong trend. The dividing rule tends to be:
    – do you have a customer you need to satisfy, or do you have a boss you need to appear good to
    – do you need to be right, or do you need to sound right.

  15. I’m going to shamelessly play the devil’s advocate here, and say that half of these professors describe themselves in exactly the same manner as we describe ourselves. For them, being a professor is something they’ve accomplished, not something that predetermines their opinion. Maybe they also ran a paper route when they were 16, and that gave them to work ethic to succeed in the academia. Maybe their father was a Korean War veteran who ran a grocery, and that gave them the concern for the proletariat which they imagine they possess.

    They denounce Trump at the drop of a hat? That’s signalling to the in-group. We do the same whenever Tim puts up a post on unchecked immigration or polyamory. Especially polyamory.

    They dismiss whole swathes of society? Just hear what we’ve got to say about Globalists. And multiculturalists. And Environmentalists. And third-generation Pakistani immigrants from Luton. Some of those might not qualify as swathes of society, being defined more by ideology than class, but that’s also true of Brexiteers or Trump supporters.

    Now, I’m not saying that we’re obliviously lacking in self-awareness, and lefty professors are supremely introspective. Of course not. It’s obviously the other way around (hahaha). But perhaps we should be a little less self-congratulatory. It’s not so easy to imagine what swathes of society you are oblivious to. Maybe we’re being a little to harsh on the professors?

    After all, there but for the Grace of God…

  16. @Mr X

    The problem with that idea, although I do see its attraction, is that the “taking on the jobs of the lower classes” experience is rather superficial – the posho doing it would not get to watch their life slide out of view, so to speak. In some cases might even leave them feeling (and I think this would have been Young’s fear) even more smug that “at least I’m not the kind of thicko that can only do this pathetic kind of work for the rest of my life – nobody else on the shift had even passed three GCSEs!” I have seen that reaction before from people forced, temporarily, to take a job that’s “beneath them”. Bigger issues remain unaddressed, of quite how those temporary co-workers had come to a point in their lives where this work was their best option, or how it feels to face the squeeze of living costs with the financial uncertainty of shift work and no prospect of long-term career progression within the proximal zone of aspirations – winning the lottery might seem more realistic than juggling night class around erratic work hours and miraculously gaining entry to an elite university and a megabucks career. Statistically may even be more realistic. Perspective comes not just from what you do and who you encounter doing it, but where you’re coming from and (in your head at least) going to, and whether those folk you meet are coming along for the ride with you or just going to be a cracking source of anecdotage once you’re more comfortably surrounded by “your kind of people”.

  17. I’m another lucky sucker. Good genes got me a good education, a good job, good investments and now a wealthy semi-retirement.

    I still have 4 full time employees doing maintenance and renovation on rental properties. They are losers. They can’t think very well, they cannot see their own best financial interests very well, much less look after them. They can’t save money because they have no self discipline.

    They are also lovely, honest, physically hard working people and quite diligent and clever at the physical matters of tools, materials and construction.

    Until my rental holdings got big enough to start employing people I did the work myself and I had the same white collar condescension to these people as others. Now I know them a bit, I somewhat understand the Communist and Christian impulses to look after them.

    There is little possibility that their genes could let them do much better than they already do. Willpower and self discipline are as genetically determined as intelligence. The 2 hours of work for themselves after their 8 hours of work for me, the hours that could make them well off – they can’t do it.

    I have no answer except that I’m happy they can live quite well in our modern western civ world. If it fails, they’ll be back being semi-starved peasants or servants or similar.

  18. Especially polyamory.

    Hang on a minute! I wrote an entire novel centred around polyamory so I could engage in in-group signalling? That wasn’t very efficient of me, was it?

    By contrast, I’d be happy to talk about polyamory with people, based on what I know. This is rather different than making offhand anti-Trump remarks and then closing down the conversation and “moving on” when unexpectedly challenged.

  19. One issue with “meritocracy” is that the chain of good genes – > good educational record – > good job is in many respects quite arbitrary. Obviously there are jobs that genuinely require advanced skills that take both raw intelligence and previous intellectual training to master. But credentialism means there are jobs folk would be perfectly fine at without a degree at all, indeed a generation or two ago nobody would think one was needed, which now require a Masters. Such jobs often grabbed by the children of the middle classes. There are perfectly intelligent people who don’t do well at school because of lack of support from family, low aspirations within their social circle and the fact that rough schools are rarely good learning environments. They don’t make it up the chain.

    There’s also the issue of certain types of intelligence being rated more highly than others by the education system and also the job application filtering system, even if book-smarts wouldn’t be the primary determinant of how well you’d actually cope with the job. So you can get lucky with the “type” of intelligence or skills you develop and the extent to which society values it at that moment. In the past, physical strength and endurance or manual dexterity would have been more valued than today. An academically-oriented brain will get you places today where, in principle, some low cunning or good people skills should really be more advantageous, except that someone in HR needs to tick a “qualifications” box.

    We have a society to a large extent dominated by people who feel they “earned” or “deserved” it because they have pieces of paper saying just how brilliant they are – but while they might be running the place, that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job of it…

  20. If anybody wants to hire a electrician with a degree in project management and IT and several years in the oil industry, I’d like to be a victim of some dumb luck.

    I’ve just been a victim of the ‘dumb’ part.

  21. My wife came from ‘umble origins and worked on the checkouts at her local supermarket during uni holidays, but she still drops £5 a day (of my money) on her Starbucks habit…

    Plenty of people forget what it was like to be poor. Plenty more assume that their present wealth will continue forever.

  22. Andrew M, its always good to remember that ones wealth may not be permanent but worrying about same is also not good for ones health too, why work, save, invest etc if a little indulgence isn’t the point on occasion?

  23. “We have a society to a large extent dominated by people who feel they “earned” or “deserved” it because they have pieces of paper saying just how brilliant they are – but while they might be running the place, that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job of it…”

    [cough] Brexit negotiations [cough]

  24. Seriously tho, if anybody can post links to available positions in the doghouse areas of the planet i’d do it.
    The descriptions of Sakhalin seem like paradise to some of the places I’ve worked.

  25. Pingback: “Without War of the Worlds there’d be no Lasers” | Al Jahom's Final Word

  26. “I don’t hate poor people! I have poor friends!”

    Ha! Seriously, though, excepting the truly sheltered (which might include the people you mention for all I know) most humans understand that luck plays a factor in life success. The sticky question is how/how much to steer the public dollar in order to ameliorate bad luck, disagreements therefrom leading to sneering of a different, but related sort.

    I mix with a pretty wide-ranging group in terms of income and have seen sneering at Trump voters from the whole spectrum. At least in the US, the class cultural divide is real, but being a sufficiently mainstream leftist is a quick route to being part of the “in-group”, the cool kids. Though it’s becoming painfully apparent to even the left that they are puritanical killjoy squares, the left is still viewed as the ones trying to help the uneducated “lower class”.

  27. I think there is a problem with people who have spent sixteen years absorbing and believing whatever their teachers/ lecturers told them and have been rewarded by constantly being told how clever they are. Indeed they have certificates to back this up.
    Hence their opinions are dependent on what they were told by people with credentials, and they clung to this approach as it is the foundation of their self esteem.
    The trouble is that if the credentialed ones are wrong then the error gets defended not corrected. And it gets defended by insults and snark because the defenders have no reason to believe what they were told beyond faith in the credentialed.
    Such people are easy marks. And they predominate in occupations where they have no skin in the game.

  28. I’ve discovered a lot of smart people who really know a given subject display a startling lack of intellectual curiosity outside of it. It’s as though they’ve rote-learned their subject matter to a high proficiency, engaged in some critical thinking thereafter, but not applied it to much else. It’s how you can get genuine experts in complex subjects making remarks on serious, separate matters which sound as though they’ve been lifted from The Guardian.

    Damn, this. So much this. I grew up on the margins of “smart”. At the mid to low end of the “advanced” classes but could breeze my way through the “regular” classes with virtually no effort. So while maybe 75% of people I knew would have considered me “smart”, I tended to cringe at the idea and more identified with/enjoyed being around the not-so-smart-set. They just seemed more genuine in their (supposed) ignorance.
    Having gone to public elementary school then to a very religious middle school then back to public high school, I had very serious doubts about what my teachers seemed to know. As I would sit there listening to them, at the first unfounded assertion or such my mind would wander off on a “How do they really know this?” path. Then I’d look at the “smart” kids sitting around me diligently writing down what was just said and wonder if this same thing wasn’t going on in the USSR and hadn’t gone on in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Then I’d wonder if how the teachers had gotten their “educations”. Presumably the same way. I really had issues with things teachers would teach us about the Great Depression or WWII as it quite often would clash with what my parents’ lived experiences were. I basically quit trying to honestly buy in to literature or especially history, an otherwise favorite subject, once I got the “US Civil War was NOT about slavery but states’ rights” BS. It would pain me to write these things down that I fundamentally disagreed with. But hey, smart people. They think all the right things.

  29. Spending a year cleaning the public toilets would hopefully stop little Tarquin Jnr. getting too big for his boots, as well as giving him an idea of what it’s like to work in a crappy (in every sense of the term) job.
    In fact, the Royal Navy does (did?) this for officers. You spent your first term cleaning anything and everything while sleeping whenever people tried to teach you stuff. You spent your second term on a ship moving around departments and, apart from the bridge where you were usually playing baby officer, you were keeping watches doing the work of an Ordinary Seaman in that department. Apart from the Galley where you were fetching, carrying and, omfg, endless cleaning and not allowed anywhere near actual cooking.

    The point was that you realised what the impact of your orders might be on the people who were carrying them out and, particularly for the Executive Branch types, you understood what supported your ability to point your ship (vaguely) in the right direction and dealing harm upon Her Maj’s enemies. Or, more likely, arrive in port and have your quarterdeck cocktail party that very evening.

    Background – solid upper middle class (albeit first generation thereof – both parents were grammar school kids and first generation of their families to go to university), minor public day school and then in to the military on a University Cadetship. Although, between school and Dartmouth, I had 4 or so months on the Youth Training Scheme – a massive eye-opener that kicked any socialism right out of me and I was on one of the good ones.

    Subsequently, after a few years and realising its utter incompatibility with family life, straight out of the RN in to a series of IT and then security management jobs, and now a reasonably well-paid contractor.

  30. WTP,

    “As I would sit there listening to them, at the first unfounded assertion or such my mind would wander off on a “How do they really know this?” path. Then I’d look at the “smart” kids sitting around me diligently writing down what was just said and wonder if this same thing wasn’t going on in the USSR and hadn’t gone on in Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. Then I’d wonder if how the teachers had gotten their “educations”. Presumably the same way.”

    Absolutely this is what happened. People became experts in all sorts of nonsense like Lysenkoism. But you see it today in universities, government and some corporations. You pass things like women’s studies degrees by going along with the nonsense. You start presenting contrary data, you’ll be trouble. Large corporations are obsessed with diversity, tell you that companies are better having it (and this specifically means racial and sexual diversity), even though there’s actually no solid evidence for this.

    It’s one of the reasons I generally prefer working in smaller companies. You’re closer to reality. Fashionable bullshit doesn’t get a home.

  31. WTP,

    A lot of people blindly believe authority. I know it’s generally about the financial crisis, but the reason I suggest everyone should watch The Big Short is that it’s about trusting data over authority. Lots of people thought the housing market was sound because of Alan Greenspan. A few people in a few funds took a look at the data and could see that quite clearly, the housing market was a bubble that was going to crash.

  32. Large corporations are obsessed with diversity, tell you that companies are better having it (and this specifically means racial and sexual diversity), even though there’s actually no solid evidence for this.

    I was told recently that diversity is the mother of innovation. The reasoning, I was told, is that if you’re homogeneous you won’t understand the globaI marketplace. I asked how Japanese companies, which were male dominated and 100% Japanese, conquered the world with their highly innovative products. I was told they were just copying the Americans. Apple was held up as being the most innovative company ever, thanks to its embrace of diversity. I asked how they were being eaten alive in the marketplace by the Koreans and Chinese who, last time I looked, didn’t really go in for diversity. “We need to move on…” was the reply.

  33. As soon as was practicable (age 16), I, and the bulk of my generation, said goodbye to the one horse town we were born in. We took Norman Tebbit’s advice to heart, jumped on our bikes –got out and got on. While luck played a part, the principal driver behind our careers, such as they were, was the simple expedient of getting out of bed every morning, turning up on time and doing whatever was asked of us. I know it’s a cliché but we all found something that interested us and keep at it until we became proficient, and then amazingly our employer gave us lots of money. Truth is we never expected much from life and are pleasantly surprised the way things have turned out.

  34. Tim Newman,

    “I asked how Japanese companies, which were male dominated and 100% Japanese, conquered the world with their highly innovative products. I was told they were just copying the Americans. Apple was held up as being the most innovative company ever, thanks to its embrace of diversity.”

    This guy is full of crap. Ask him who W Edwards Deming is, or who invented the Walkman.

    As for Apple, no, it’s a very white, male company. 4 execs on the board, 2 in the standard female jobs (HR and environmental). The other 2 are their lawyer and the woman who runs the apple stores (who only joined in 2014). Nothing to do with product innovation.

    In my experience, the only real difference with diversity is male/female. Men and women are rather different. But the problem is that even if you hire female programmers, you don’t get typical women. You get nerdy, science-thinking women, not girly types. On the flip side, how macho are male fashion designers?

    If you want better products, the most valuable thing is working as a team across all your various sections, male or female. Don’t dump a software update on the sales, marketing and support teams. Work with them, listen to them.

  35. “Apple was held up as being the most innovative company ever, thanks to its embrace of diversity.”

    I bet all the products that have made (and are still making) Apple lots of money were the product of the largely white male version of Apple, ie the one that existed up to about 10-20 years ago. There’s been no real innovation at Apple for ages – just upgrades to make existing products faster and more whizzy. Between 2000 and 2010 Apple introduced the iPod, the iPhone and iPad, 3 genuinely innovative products. Whats it done since?

  36. @Jim -“A good deal of the arrogance comes from the decline of religion IMO””

    Absolutely spot on, if you take Christianity even in its broader cultural as opposed to pious practitioner sense, you can see why they want it gone.

    It provides a means of preserving ancient practices that have worked for the people living together, customs, respect for elders, common law, behaviors, freedom, what is wrong and what is not, the sanctity of marriage and the scared union of a male and female in procreating new humans.

    Sure it has been misused and abused as well, but overall it supported and believed in the wonderful concept that the individual is a creative and good thing and that they are equal and can coexist peacefully and productively with other individuals in a set way. I really wouldn’t be surprised if this tsunami of scandals that have rocked the Christian clergy is the fruits of a subversion ploy instigated generations ago.

    The Christian culture is the opposite of a collectivists state outlook, where the individual is the lone wolf, the outcast, the weirdo and you need the state to tell you what is good and bad, and also supposedly protect you from harm and that morals are nothing more than some old fashioned snake poison dished out by corrupt high priest.

  37. @Jonathon,

    Imagine the hue and cry on here if Tim done a post on why the fuck is the US once again engaging in blatant unlawful regime change with this time being in Venezuela!

  38. @Frolix 8 – Seriously tho, if anybody can post links to available positions in the doghouse areas of the planet i’d do it.””

    I would love to have a look at you and see if I could place you in our wider group, but there just isn’t any way that I can due to my anonymity being breached.

    If its any consolation and I have said this on here many times, all of the guys that I have met and know that are multis, real verified ones, are all layman. The only exception being a Sheikh that we are involved with, and I gotta say he is a very nice and personable guy with it as well.

    I have decided to leave my profession which is in construction engineering later in the year, I aint fully retiring but I think my days of contracting with the devil himself to build a new furnace in some obscure part of the world for big money is coming to an end. It has been a tremendously rewarding sector for me and it was my choice to leave.

    There are already some plans afoot for a farewell from a very wide range of current and previous colleagues and I have been asked to think about preparing something for it. I am going to limit it to one positive learning and one important person from each of my say ten major career type organisations over the years. When I think back its clear that all of my major leanings have been about learning from my mistakes as opposed to mass sackings because of them and all of the most memorable positive role models that I can clearly recall were incredibly successful people that operated at all levels, including and always at the human level and folk that imparted very positive and grounded messages on me and others.

  39. Bloke on M4:
    It’s one of the reasons I generally prefer working in smaller companies. You’re closer to reality.

    Definitely. I’m currently in the job market and looking at positions with organizations of 200 people or so. I find that is the sweet spot on stability without too much overhead.

    Lots of people thought the housing market was sound because of Alan Greenspan. A few people in a few funds took a look at the data and could see that quite clearly, the housing market was a bubble that was going to crash.
    Well even minus the data. I recall driving around Ft. Lauderdale in January of 2007 and marveling (not in a good way) at the number of condominiums that were going up, yet hardly any of the existing ones had any furniture on their balconies. I lack the nerve to play the short market as I don’t feel comfortable timing it but I was highly tempted to short REITs at the time. The ones I did look into at the time were too commercial oriented to fit what I saw as an oversupply of residential units. If I had known about, and had the time to learn & understand * focus on, the credit default swap market (or WTF it was called) I would have been much more tempted.

  40. Bloke again:
    In my experience, the only real difference with diversity is male/female. Men and women are rather different. But the problem is that even if you hire female programmers, you don’t get typical women. You get nerdy, science-thinking women, not girly types. On the flip side, how macho are male fashion designers?

    Bingo. However even with the less technical females I have found, and have been rather surprised with the agreement I have gotten from other men on this, that the presence of at least ONE female in a design or requirements meeting tends to keep the dick measuring to a minimum and keep things on topic. Which in some respects I found counter-intuitive. That’s probably the “smart” person in me that I’ve spent years trying to get to shut up.

  41. Tim:
    I was told recently that diversity is the mother of innovation. The reasoning, I was told, is that if you’re homogeneous you won’t understand the globaI marketplace. I asked how Japanese companies, which were male dominated and 100% Japanese, conquered the world with their highly innovative products.

    Well Japan’s efforts kind of petered out. Here’s my feelings on diversity, something of which I have been known to rant against, especially after being singled out in a Jane Elliott style training session…I have worked with people from all over the world. India and China mostly but South America and former-Iron-Curtain Europe, Vietnam, etc. I worked overseas on two short occasions, a month in Tokyo and a week in Bristol. Admittedly that last part is not a whole lot, but I have traveled somewhat extensively, mostly through Europe. What I find is that I seem to get along better with “foreigners” than native born Americans. Though the non-Americans I get along with tend to be apolitical or diversity indifferent. I greatly value the business and work relationships that I have had with them. But I think this is because so many of those that I know have a greater understanding, whatever their politics might be, of the greatness of this country. Though I presume they might more broadly apply it to Western Civilization in general. Either way, it’s an appreciation that a great number of Americans who bang on and on about diversity understand. In the Jane Elliott style class to which I refer above, I recall looking around the room at the Indians, Pakistani, Chinese, Hungarian, Russian, South American, and such people and marveling that the people in that room sitting there quietly being lectured by two black women assisted by one milquetoast black man should be the ones telling the lecturers about the subject matter. It was yet again one of those moments where I felt like I was in and episode of the Twilight Zone meets George Orwell.

  42. On the original question. Anecdotally a Hollywood film star was asked whether he owed his position to luck or talent. He replied 90% luck- but don’t try if you haven’t the talent.
    On diversity. If an organisation has a common purpose (win the war, produce a better aeroplane, sell stuff cheaper, whatever) then diversity of experience will help it achieve that purpose. Without the common purpose diversity is of no use, and will prevent the formation of a common purpose.

  43. re that thing about Professors tim@10:53am

    It’s one of the disappointing discoveries I made on Twitter – people that I was aware of because of their (considerable) professional achievements being complete berks opining on stuff they had not bothered to even trivially scope out – or worse – astonishing Trump Derangement Syndrome stuff.

    That meritocracy article was excellent – just shows how far the Guardian has fallen – it wouldn’t make it in today…. satire huh?

  44. re that thing about Professors tim@10:53am

    It’s one of the disappointing discoveries I made on Twitter – people that I was aware of because of their (considerable) professional achievements being complete berks opining on stuff they had not bothered to even trivially scope out – or worse – astonishing Trump Derangement Syndrome stuff.

    That meritocracy article was excellent – just shows how far the Guardian has fallen – it wouldn’t make it in today…. satire huh?

  45. Like to expand on what My Burning Ears was saying above. I think you fail to emphasise how much the people you’re talking about have benefited from people like them tilting the playing field in the direction of their own benefit. To succeed in the modern world you start with a major advantage if you’ve had a certain type of education. Because that sort of education is a requirement to succeed in the modern world. People with that sort of education require it because they’re the ones choosing the metric by which others are judged.
    University is a must. But what’s a university education but the acquisition of a particular skillset? Yet it’s having attended university is the marker, very often, rather than whether the skillset is a relevant one.
    You talk about your circle being intelligent. Are they? Or are you defining intelligence as being a member of that circle. I’ve seen supposedly intelligent people dropped into situations outside of their experience floundering around like morons. Repeatedly choosing the same solutions, despite those solutions repeatedly failing & totally unable to learn by experience. (I could be describing our political class here, couldn’t I?) If it wasn’t for the fact they were credentialised as intelligent, you’d think they were intellectually sub-normal

  46. Whether by luck, smarts, effort, or divine election, you understand complex political issues much better than the great majority of your fellow voters. Political ignorance can be justifiable and rational but even rational ignorance is still the opposite of knowledge. In a regular election, this cognitive gap may not matter much (candidates are supposed to study the issues so voters don’t have to); in a referendum, it’s a huge factor.

  47. BiS

    Very well put, expressed my thinking better than I managed.

    Thought experiment. Top medical schools in the UK are massively oversubscribed and could set their entry criteria to pretty much anything arbitrary at all to get those applicants whittled down.

    If they said “juggling is an excellent marker of hand-eye coordination for future surgeons and quick thinking and skillfulness that would even make for excellent desk-bound GPs”, then society would readapt very quickly to this new definition of intelligence.

    Private schools would have after-school juggling clubs or even compulsory classes, perhaps as part of PE. Those Asian-majority parts of London where you can’t go five doors down the High Street without walking past another “Maths, English and Science Tuition Centre” would rapidly gain “Maths, English, Science and Juggling” centre.

    People who couldn’t juggle would be seen as weak, unintelligent, perhaps people who could have been somebody if they tried but had wasted their life by not investing in valuable skills/pointless credential-hoop jumping when they were young.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I do believe medicine is a career we want smart and well-educated people in, in some respects maybe even the pinnacle of that meritocratic ideal, yet much of the stuff you need to do to get into, and even through, med school has a large degree of arbitrariness and it is a kind of arbitrary that has been selected for the benefit of a certain kind of person who gets to feel all smug about how brilliant they are when assessed against these (arbitrary) criteria.

    Ps @Jonathon – good post

  48. Would have thought juggling was more prerequisite for accountants rather than surgeons. Although no doubt Tim Worstall can point in the direction of a complete butterfingers.
    But you’re right. It’s what ever attributes those who would judge have achieved are the ones they will judge befits one to join their ranks. The current one seems to be a certain wokeness. It certainly isn’t knowledge, competence or intellect. Don’t think there’s been a time when the profoundly stupid have had so much influence in so many fields. But every cloud has one. They’re thus also the people who accumulate the dosh & taking it off of them rivals parting babies from sweeties for easiness of accomplishment.

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