Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Engines of Success

It was mentioned to me that some 60% of people in the United States believe that hard work and effort are the keys to success. It came up in the context of people being taken advantage of by unscrupulous politicians, who use their belief in the power of hard work against them. The degree to which hard work is a reliable indicator of one's degree of success is subject of constant debate, mainly because for most people "hard work" and "success" are something akin to "pornography" - something they can't define, but that they know on sight.

In my own experience, simply working hard at something, regardless of the amount of effort expended, is not considered "success." It's simply hard work. And that's where opportunity comes in. Opportunity is the engine that turns hard work into success. But not all engines are created equally. Some are built for speed, some are built for fuel efficiency, some are built for hauling heavy loads and some? Well, some simply aren't as good as others. Just as efficiency is not evenly distributed among mechanical engines, efficiency is not evenly distributed in opportunities - some grant much better economy than others. (And isn't that the point - to get as much productivity out of a given amount of work as possible?)

Simply assuming that as long as someone "worked hard enough" (something which is usually only determined in hindsight) that an opportunity of sufficient efficiency to raise them to a certain level of relative affluence will come along is, frankly, lazy. It's how we get out of actually needing to understand enough about people and situations to accurately evaluate them. But it's also a means of attempting to control the world, because it means that we don't have to think about the fact that some opportunities are going to be more productive than others - we simply assume that what we get out will be some fixed multiple of what we put in, and that is that. But that's an assumption with consequences.

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