The Success Equation, Chrome Extensions, and Spiral of Silence

The High Five - Edition #12


Welcome to this week’s ‘The High Five’. This 12th edition is quite some potpourri because we are going to talk a bit more about ‘Success Equation’, explore some interesting Google Chrome extensions, acquaint ourselves with the concept of ‘The Spiral of Silence’, and reflect on J.Krishnamurti’s take on artists. So let’s get going.

Success: The Success Equation

In Edition #11, I shared Michael Mauboussin's 'The Success Equation' (which also happens to be his book). The equation goes like this:

Success =a x Skill + (1 - a) x Luck

where a is [0,1]

The author says that in activities where skill and luck define outcomes, as skill improves, luck becomes more important in determining outcomes. I have read quite a few articles on this topic and the author shares some interesting perspectives.

Now, we all generally agree that 'Luck' is something we deem to be out of our control. And what's in our control is 'skill'. He defines 'skill' as: “The ability to apply one’s knowledge readily in execution or performance".

There’s a quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill: ask whether you can lose on purpose. In games of skill, it’s clear that you can lose intentionally. Each sport has a different mix of skill versus luck. Activities like chess rely almost wholly on a player’s skill.

As skill improves, especially in competitive markets/fields, luck becomes more important for determining outcomes. Luck exists when three conditions are in place:

1. It operates on an individual or an organizational basis;

2. It can be positive or negative;

3. It is reasonable to expect that a different outcome could have occurred

Much of what we experience in life results from a combination of skill and luck. The mix of skill and luck in a given business or investing activity is always different and is constantly changing. Great success combines skill with a lot of luck. You can’t get there by relying on either skill or luck alone. You need both.

When everyone in fields like business, sports and investing, copies the best practices of others, luck plays a greater role in how well they do because the key input playing there is some information, that is being applied in the form of a skill. But the same information is accessible for everyone, who are all applying it in their own ways. So, the field becomes characterized by competition. Those whose measures of combinations of skill + luck work, tend to experience greater success.

We love to tell stories, particularly about our successes. Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we are skilful. And many times, we tend to forget about luck once we know how things turned out (favourably) and that is ‘survivor bias’ at play there. The typical conclusion we draw is: "what I achieve is ‘skill’ and what I fail at is (bad) luck". Luck and skill are different but one can lead to the other in a way that creates a virtuous circle.

So, what about the frequently used adages like - “the harder you work, the luckier you become”? Mauboussin contends: “there is no way to improve your luck because anything you do to improve a result can reasonably be considered a skill.”

Productivity Tools: Google Chrome extensions

There are many Google Chrome extensions that I find very useful, particularly for my reading and writing experience. In this edition of ‘The High Five’, here are five of them:

  1. Black Menu: Do you know that you can respond to an email in your Gmail inbox, quickly, while still being on another web-page, without having to open Gmail? Black Menu makes it smooth, especially when you need to quickly open a small window to use Gmail or Google Keep or Google Calendar.

  2. Weava Highlighter: useful for highlighting text on webpages.

  3. Auto Text Expander - you can create mnemonic codes for some frequently used sentences such as A-1 = your address or C-1 = your contact number etc. And it auto-expands (pastes your address) whenever you key in A-1 in future in any webpage.

  4. Grammarly - Yeah, you might have seen this ad many times on YouTube. It is handy.

  5. Fika reader - This chrome extension enhances the reading experience by turning any webpage into plain reader format, removing annoying ads and distracting elements on the webpage. If you need to read something with attention, enabling Fika reader mode is the best way to go.

Social phenomenon: The Spiral of Silence

Postulated by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist, the spiral of silence is a phenomenon where many people don’t often say what they think (even in societies with robust free speech protections) because they always want to blend in. The model says that our willingness to express an opinion is a direct result of how popular or unpopular we perceive it to be. The author feels that we perform a complex dance whenever we share views on anything morally loaded.

In societies, cohesive groups tend to have similar opinions. And if someone expresses an unpopular opinion, they could risk social exclusion, mockery or even ostracism within a particular context. People might still feel safe to voice a divergent opinion, but only if they think the larger group will share the same opinion or at least be accepting of divergence, or if they view the consequences of rejection as low. A feedback loop pushes minority opinions towards less and less visibility.

Here are the implications of the spiral of silence:

  1. The picture we have of what most people believe is not always accurate.

  2. The possibility of discord makes us less likely to voice an opinion at all, assuming we are not trying to foment any conflict.

  3. What seems like a sudden change in mainstream opinions can in fact be the result of a shift in what is acceptable to voice, not in what people actually think in reality.

  4. Highly vocal holders (groups of power) of a minority opinion can end up having a disproportionate influence on public discourse. For example: Media on the internet. Media has the power to manufacture opinions that seem far more prevalent than they actually are.

It is always the most extreme views on any spectrum that take a lot of space on the public sphere (hence normalizing them) and people with a moderate take have less of an incentive to make themselves heard. In some anonymous and powerful environments, the spiral of silence can end up reversing itself, making the most fringe views the loudest.

An excerpt that got me thinking: “To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behaviour; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me, the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness and, therefore, his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.” - J. Krishnamurti (in the book Total Freedom)

A question I pondered about, this week: Is there a correlation between geographical terrain (mountains) and the happiness index of human populations living there?

A new artist I discovered this week is Cavale when I came across this song called ‘Burst into Flames’ in the soundtrack of the Netflix series - ‘Emily in Paris’. Nice song.

Let me know if you liked this edition, by comments or emails. Have fun!