This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Last updated at 16:55 BST, Friday, 22 June 2012

Should we reward success?


22 June 2012

Society is wrong to reward and try to emulate the most successful people in business - or indeed any sector. Instead we should be lauding those who are talented, but not as successful. Those are the findings of new research from academics at two British universities, who say that 'success' is often predicated on luck, a factor which is out of people's control.


John McManus

Bill Gates

Did family connections help initial success of Bill Gates?


Click to hear the report


The message that society's top performers are not the most skilled and shouldn't be emulated, appears to be counter-intuitive. Yet this report says that those who appear to have achieved the most in their particular field of expertise, are often the beneficiaries of luck, an external, random force.

The authors of this study point to the example of Bill Gates, the co-founder of the computing giant Microsoft, and one of the world's richest men. They say that although he is undoubtedly talented, he achieved his initial success because his affluent family were able to send him to a school where programming was on the curriculum - at a time when most Americans didn't have access to computers. Family connections also helped, according to Professor Chengwei Liu from Warwick University Business School.

That kind of luck is often at work in the lives of the most successful, argues Mr Liu, which means their achievements aren't completely attributable to their own skill. Instead, he advocates looking at those whom he calls 'the second best'. They aren't relying on lucky chances, so their performances offer an opportunity to measure real success. The study also argues that there are dangers if colleagues try to emulate the achievements of those who've been overly fortunate.

This could explain the global Banking crisis says Professor Liu, who also believes that studying the lives of people such as Bill Gates for tips on reaching the top is fruitless. Of course, some academics argue that individuals can in fact create their own lucky circumstances through using personal contacts and pursuing all available opportunities. This research though says that because those with the highest salaries haven't completely earned them through skill, they should be taxed more heavily - which would be very bad luck.


Click to hear the vocabulary



matched or imitated


contrary to what you expect

field of expertise

specialism / area of skill


people who have gained from




due to


recommends / supports




failing to achieve what is desired