Friday Factoids: What Contributes Most To Success?


Intelligence, self-discipline, or chance? What is the strongest contributor to success?


This is a complicated question. I think that it is too simplistic to think that the smarter you are, the more successful you will be. We can recall how many times we have completed an intelligence test when applying for a new job or a promotion. This obviously never happens.  More likely consideration for a position is focused on past performance and achievement.


The above statement leaves out too many situational factors including perhaps the most important- self-discipline.  Richard Nisbett discusses in his book, Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count, the strong relationship between delayed gratification in the marshmallow experiment with children and their achievement scores in the future.  The marshmallow experiment gives the participant the options of either receiving one marshmallow now or two marshmallows after a set time.  Children who were able to wait longer to receive more marshmallows were more likely to have higher standardized achievement test scores.


However, Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, that immense success depends primarily on the special advantages one receives that make it possible to reach such success, once expertise has been achieve via the 10,000 Hour Rule. He cited such stories as how Bill Gates developed an affinity for computers and later achieved extreme wealth after he was given access to computers at a time when computers were not widely available.  Gladwell argues that Gates would have likely been a successful professional, but perhaps not a professional worth $50 billion.  Such high levels of success do not depend on raw aptitude and hard work alone.


So for now, there is no easy answer for my initial question.  Like many complicated questions, there are many complicated answers.  For more information on intelligence and success or for help forming an opinion of your own on this matter, you can check out the books I have discussed here:

Gladwell, M. (2009). Outliers: The story of success. Penguin UK.

Nisbett, R. E. (2009). Intelligence and how to get it: Why schools and cultures count. New York:  W. W. Norton.


Cassandra Sturycz
Psychology Practicum Student



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