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The Success Equation

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  587 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 6th 2012 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published October 16th 2012)
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Matt Asher
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This books is about understanding how to disentangle luck and skill when evaluating performance, and the implications of making predictions in different environments. Lots to think about here, and the author does a good job of introducing a few ways to tease out skill from luck. Unfortunately, most of the interesting action happens in academic papers which are merely alluded to, so he gives conclusions and brief summaries of the studies, but doesn't show their inner workings. How do we know that ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
As someone interested in each of sports, business, and investing, I had high hopes for this book but ultimately found it lacking. The connections between the three are often tenuous, the chapters frequently repetitive (this book would have been better as a long essay), and the material often regurgitated from other authors (I've read Thinking Fast and Slow, some Taleb, and tons on sports analytics, so a lot in this book was repetitive).

The author does add some of his own analysis, specifically
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
After the egotistical musings of Taleb (The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable) this book was a breath of fresh air. The author provides clear explanations of how intuition and practice mislead one when skill and luck are mixed, and what understandings from reality one can and cannot rely upon. All of this information is provided at an engaging pace without reverting to the gee-wiz tricks or over-simplification of the TED generation. If something like Taleb built your interest in th ...more
Tyson Strauser
Apr 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: behavioral
Mike Mauboussin is one of my favorite authors. In THE SUCCESS EQUATION, he takes us on a ride through the math of sabermetricians, case studies of behavioral psychologists, and through his own investigations to show us that success is a product of the interplay between skill and luck.

The book offers a few new (to me) insights that are worth recalling:

The paradox of skill - in fields where skill is more important to the outcome, luck's role in determining the ultimate winner increases. And in fi
Devyn Duffy
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in separating skill from luck
Recommended to Devyn by: Dan Gardner, Dr. Philip Tetlock
Good introductory book with a few ideas that were new to me. If the book has a main idea, it's an attempt to tease out the differences between skill and luck and then decide what to do based on the results. Mauboussin advises that when skill is predominant in a field, the best course of action is "deliberate practice" with feedback and coaching; when luck is predominant, he advises not to worry over results, because you have little or no control over them, and instead just focus on getting your ...more
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Some good clear practical takeaways to frame decisions in business/investments and picking fantasy sports teams! The core premise could be summarized well in a typical HBR article, but the book is still relatively short and includes some good examples across sports, business and investments that support the arguments.
Jul 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Interesting additionally for whose who are obsessed with the theory of "deliberate practice"
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book. It's easy to read, it's thoughtful, it's full of knowledge. Every chapter provides great advices – ready to use in business, sports betting, investing and everyday life – even in raising your children. Author presents a source for practically every fact or information in his book – whether it's a book of an economy professor or author's own analysis. This book really gave me a lot of insight into my life, it made me think differently. You'd be surprised how much luck there is t ...more
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Success (and failure) are the result of both skill AND luck. Successful people (and outcomes) are not just those with the most skill who work the hardest, but they often benefit from good luck too. Different activities are the result of different mixes of skill and luck; e.g., the outcomes of NBA games and chess are highly reliant on skill, while the outcomes of investing and gambling are highly reliant on luck. The author takes a very statistical, but accessible, approach. I'll never think of e ...more
Katherine Collins
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Are you convinced your kids are smarter than their SAT scores indicate? Are you frustrated that your obvious genius at work seems underappreciated? Do you have great 3-year investment returns but still wonder if you’ve “got it”? Then you must, must read this book. Here is a brief interview with some highlights:
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book - he kept the math simple but explained how events occur on a continuum of skill and luck, and how various sports and activities can be quantified by their components of skill and luck, and how some statistics are more meaningful (more skill than luck).

Lots of examples and the math is easy... good read for just about anyone interested in sports/investing/etc.
Tracey Kreps
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Unsurprisingly I quite enjoyed this book. The writing style is superb and creates an approachable framework for a largely statistical and/or quantitative based exercise. In fact, I wish this type of reading were pre-course required reading for statistics classes in order to provide the student with a useful framework for the educational effort they are about to begin.
Vaibhav Gupta
Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
An extremely interesting book trying to break down the role of skill and luck in life and puts a lot of events that happen around us in perspective. Interesting statistics and an innovative method of untangling the relationship between both. Provides insights as to how you could go ahead and try and improve your chances of being lucky.
Hariharan Ragunathan
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good read, and if you love some sports stats and want to relate to the concepts introduced by Taleb's in his Fooled by randomness you would enjoy reading this book. Detailed review here :
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
The Success Equation is exactly what it describes in the subtitle: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. I thought this was a great topic but was not executed as sharply as it could be. I liked that there were a lot of examples, and that the author pulled from a variety of different places for the information, but I thought he was a little sloppy with the details and had some logical gaps that were a little frustrating. They did not greatly detract from the overall messag ...more
People with 20-15 vision can see a distance of 20 feet as well as an average person can see a distance of 15 feet. A measure of 20-8 considered the limit of human ability. The average baseball player has 20-13 vision & a couple players have 20-9, approaching the human limit.

You always stand when you have 17, but if you have 16, you take another card only if the dealer has a 7 or higher.

Reversion to the mean is most pronounced at the extremes, so the 1st lesson is to recognize that when you
Brian Kramp
Oct 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting, but too similar to other books I've read to get me excited. I liked it, but I didn't take any notes, and wanted it to end more than I wanted it to continue.
Lots of explorations about how to think about luck and skill.
Bowman Dickson
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Yay! I loved this. Really fascinating, great niche stats topic, perfect amount of math for me (way more detail than a Malcolm Gladwell-y type book). I didn't like the section on deliberate practice (felt out of place) but everything else was awesome.
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An intelligent look at the relative influcences of luck and skill
Pete Welter
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
The title "The Success Equation" may make this sound like yet another generic business book, but the reality is that is focuses on an area not often explicitly discussed: the balance of Skill vs. Luck. More precisely, Mauboussin examines the the skill-luck continuum from a variety of perspectives, from the statistical math to decision-making.

Most often when we speak of skill or luck, we are talking about the extremes of the spectrum. Chess champions or tennis players for skill. Casino games or p
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
When I was reading it, there're many new concepts. His claim that different sports having different chance factors was definitely interesting. However, his approach of jumping back and forth around business and sports was hard to follow. After a while, I forgot most of the stuff he said. It had been better if it was wrapped into a story or central theme.
Syed Ashrafulla
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: microeconomics
There are quite a few books that try to describe the nature of randomness in human outcomes. This is a decent one in that the key concepts (mixture models, regression testing, hypothesis testing) are accessible. I thought it was a bit standard but that is largely due to my many-year exposure to statistics. So when Mauboussin talks about having a special equation to deal with variance, I can immediately say "ANOVA." Most people can't; for them this is a good quick read.

I also like that the lesson
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
"The Success Equation" admittingly is not the most original book on the eternal question of what causes success, skill or luck, but it is nevertheless one of the best books on the topic.

Building heavily on Nassim Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness," Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" among others, Mauboussin connects the dots and especially over the first half of the book develops a thorough overview on the topic.

Like many good business books, the second half of the book fades a bit with too
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found that this book could have contained half as many pages and conveyed the central ideas of the author all the same. The Success Equation culled from work by Daniel Kahneman, Malcolm Gladwell, Nassim Taleb, and others to enable readers to differentiate luck from skill, incorporate statistics and Bayesian analysis effectively, and recognize reversion to the mean. I read this book in a day and think the information and be absorbed readily.

In short, luck occurs all the time all around us. We
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great, quintessential Mauboussin

In my opinion, this is Mauboussin's best yet. He writes in the same clear, informative style, teaching the reader about statistical methods as he makes his point. And his point is always about what the data shows. He explains the design of his experiments and answers questions about success, luck, and skill. So, no stats required, but the reader will get a healthy dose in the text.
Also, I read along while I listened using whispersync. The text is well-written and
Dec 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Low rating despite agreeing with most of the author's facts as well as his conclusions. Whenever that is the case it's usually because I've already spent a lot of cognitive time exploring the same or closely-related ideas and topics. This often leads, as it does here, to disappointment when the author inevitably leaves out particular details that I personally believe are important, presenting nuanced and complex phenomena as more certain, uncomplicated, and predictable.'
It's still a recommend fr
Phil Simon
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
I enjoyed this book because of a few reasons. First up, we like to think of successful people as doing something different, something right. While this is sometimes the case, often plain dumb luck drives their success. Ditto companies.

Mauboussin does a great job of weaving in statistical theory, a swath of examples, and the most influential psychological research. There's plenty of Kahneman, as to be expected. Bottom line: We're not as good as we think we are in separating luck from skill. This
Josh Maher
Jun 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What a great book - there is a lot that investors of all types can learn from this book. Whether you are a money manager, invest your own account, invest in real estate... or more importantly invest in early stage companies - there is a lot that could be learned from understanding where skill and where luck come into play when looking at success. Refining the process of investing is incredibly undervalued for any investor as well as for operators, engineers, and most professions. If you want to ...more
Billy Forde
Apr 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed the book, just didn't find it flowed as well as others in the genre and kind of rushed to its conclusion.

That said I think the last chapter was a great summary and more books should wrap things up that way!

Would courage anyone interested in the spade to read it - it's not overly challenging - but feel there are better examples.
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
A book with a few good ideas, but probably can be shortened by half and increase its impact. Success = skill plus luck. Variance (success) = variance (skill) + variance (luck). Chess is high skill dependent, investing is high luck dependent. But there is a paradox: when variance is low for skill, as in all the smart people become stock investors, most of the variance will come from luck...
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Michael J. Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management. Prior to joining LMCM in 2004, Michael was a Managing Director and Chief U.S. Investment Strategist at Credit Suisse. Michael joined CS in 1992 as a packaged food industry analyst. He is a former president of the Consumer Analyst Group of New York and was repeatedly named to Institutional Investors All-America R

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“Once an innovation reaches a certain level of popularity, its success is virtually assured. By the same token, great innovations can fail because the domino effect doesn't kick in.15” 2 likes
“There's a quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill: ask whether you can lose on purpose.” 1 likes
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