The Ig Nobel Prize is a satiric prize offered annually since 1991, a pun on the actual Nobel Prize awarded in Sweden every year. The ignoble nature of these actual prizes aims to honor unusual achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
The 2022 Ig Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Alessandro Pluchino, Alessio Emanuele Biondo, and Andrea Rapisarda. These three university professors, an economist and two physicists from Sicily, Italy, were able to explain, mathematically, why success often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest. They ran various computer models to study how luck and talent collide.
What these researchers found was that anybody who achieves success would be wise to acknowledge the role of luck. “If you are a very successful person,” said Dr. Biondo, “you owe something to the context.” Indeed, since we don’t choose our parents, our genes, or our childhood environment – all of which are important determinants in life – we need to reckon with the way talent and luck intersect. Obviously, one has to have a measure of talent to know what to do with luck when it arrives. But these Sicilian prize winners were able to show how having average talent and substantial luck is better than having a lot of talent and very little luck.
Any one of us can claim moral credit for good fortune that comes our way. We regularly do. Our success is the earned result of hard work, we often say. It’s true: intelligence, drive, discipline, and personal energy are critical to success. But a lot of seemingly inconsequential things alter the trajectory of our lives as well. Being lucky in our birth, or our community, or in our proximity to other lucky people in life are also part of the mix.
So, for you NCAA March Madness bracket enthusiasts – 73 million Americans are expected to have filled out brackets by noon today – never mind how much you know about basketball compared to others. You have a shot at greatness. That’s because magnificent luck is more important than your modest talent or meager basketball knowledge. The odds of anyone filling out a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. That’s 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. Enjoy the madness of dealing with luck!