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The formula the universal laws of success

The problem with most success-related books

The formula the universal laws of success.

Most self-help books and success-related literature rely heavily on inspirational messages.

This book “The formula – The universal laws of success “is different.

Let’s take an example first.

A century ago; weather forecasting would’ve sounded silly.

Yet, a large amount of data accurately predicted where and when a typhoon would hit a specific place on the globe.

Weather forecasting is now a common practice.

Now, what if we can forecast success just the way we do with weather?

The formula the universal laws of success is based on such an approach.

A team of researchers harvested mountains of empirical data.

Based on human accomplishment, they found patterns that explain and predict success in different ranges of fields.

It’s now called laws of success because the patterns were so recurrent and universal.

If you want to know the formula – the universal laws of success then read on.

the formula the universal laws of success

What is success?

For the purposes of this book, success must be defined as the rewards we earn from the communities we belong to.

The reward can be fame, recognition, visibility, renown, ticket sales, revenue, earning or audience depending on the activities you’re in.

One thing in common is that they are collective and external. Success is neither internal nor individual.

The difference between performance and success

As we said, success is collective and external. Performance however refers to one’s internal and individual accomplishment.

To highlight the difference between success and performance, let’s say that you finally succeeded in doing 100 push-ups in 10 minutes, that’s success to you.

“You reached an important goal through hard work. But the rewards were internal, centered on personal satisfaction and fulfillment.”

That might be the biggest success in your life. But for the sake of this book, we will call it individual performance, not success per se.

We can’t measure performance

Performance is subjective and difficult to measure. An optimistic person might judge 20 push-ups in 3 minutes as a big success. On the contrary, a perfectionist would consider it a big failure.

Scientists can’t measure these individual fulfillments, let alone assign a number to them.

Because they adopted a strict approach to big data, the author and his team excluded individual performance.

Success defined

In fact, success is collective and it requires a community’s response. Success is not about you, it’s about us. We need to observe, even measure the ripple effect that your performance has.

What are the positive or negative impacts of your success on the people and on the environment?

According to this definition, a tree that falls in the woods without anyone around to witness will make no sound. Why: Because there’s no observer, no one to confirm.

More than just hard work

If you read dozens of books about success, you’ll deduce that hard work alone matters. But is it the only thing that makes the difference?

According to the author, it’s only one component of success.

Before big data and the science of success, we thought that luck combined with hard work or talent will magically lead us to success.

Hard work is important. But the laws of success suggest a different approach, implying that performance alone isn’t enough: it’s only one variable in the formula for success.

Here’s why.

1- The Red Baron and the Forgotten Ace

The Red Baron

The red baron

Picture From Amazon

Manfred von Richthofen nicknamed the Red Baron is a famous cavalryman during World War I. He shot down an astounding number of eighty planes during his three-year career, exceeding any standards at that time.

The Red Baron is so famous that his story survived a century later. He wrote his own autobiography and more than thirty books about him were published. Movies, novels and comic books made his fame live on.

From this example, can we deduce that skills invariably create success? Not necessarily.

And that’s why it’s interesting.

The forgotten ace

Rene Fonck

From Wikipedia

In the book the formula – The universal laws of success, the author mentions René Fonck, a skilled French pilot who surpassed The Red Baron’s performance. He is best-known for having gunned down 127 German planes as he fought for the Allies.

On a performance level, René Fonck outshined Manfred von Richthofen and this by a large extent.

Technically he was a more proficient sharpshooter and he mastered extremely complex maneuvers.

Why then was he forgotten? No movies, no starring, only a few mentions? Why is the Red Baron more successful?

Other examples

Claudette colvin

Have you heard of Claudette Colvin before? In 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, she also refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was an African-American and the scene happened in Montgomery, Alabama.

Why is she less known than Rosa Parks? Even if the exact same scene happened in the same city, same time frame?

From their large amount of data, the author of the formula – The universal laws of success collected countless anecdotes and real stories similar to the Red Baron’s and Claudette Colvin’s.

Even with performance, there is one fundamental law that governs success:

Your success isn’t about you and your performance.

It’s about us and how we perceive your performance.

Simply put, your success is not about you, it’s about us.

Success and performance

Performance is individual, you have control over it. You can hone your skills and get better at what you are doing.

But success is played in a different category. Success is a collective measure. It’s about how our community responds to our performance.

René Fonck, the forgotten ace was super skilled but nobody knew about his performance, that’s why we can’t consider him as successful.

You can be good at something but if nobody knows about it, it won’t bring you success.

If people are not even aware of your performance, how can you expect them to reward you?

“The collective nature of success helps us explain why the René Foncks of the world go largely unrecognized despite their astounding or rare feats.”

I remember Achilles in the movie Troy released in 2004. When he first met Hector, he lost interest in killing the Prince. As he said: “Why kill you now, Prince of Troy, with no-one here to see you fall?”

Achilles was a skilled warrior but his fame lasted because there were thousands of people who attested his achievements.

Success and networks

The most successful people are those who mastered their networks. They occupy a certain place in their community’s mind. They are remembered in the collective consciousness.

No wonder most successful entrepreneurs, motivational speakers and actors are all very active on social media.


THE FIRST LAW: Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success


2- Grand slams and college diplomas why hard work (sometimes) works

Imagine that you got an entrance to Harvard University.

But there’s one problem: you have to let it down because you can’t afford the tuition.

You ask yourself: “Would I still be successful in life?”

In the formula – the universal laws of success, the author explains why entering Harvard won’t necessarily enhance your performance.

He came to the conclusion that Harvard doesn’t make you a better student. It’s you who get admittance into Harvard that makes it a prestigious university.

Let me explain.

Rigorous selection process

When you enter a top school, your SAT scores alone aren’t enough. You need more than just to do well in class.

During the selection, a surprising amount of criteria are used such as recommendations, interviews, extracurricular activities, essays about unique life experiences etc…

These criteria give in advance a glimpse of your performance.

To answer the question: “Would I still be successful in life”? The answer is a resounding yes, depending on your high performance.

If you got accepted to an Ivy League College but attend a less prestigious one, your performance and ambition will determine your future success, not the university you attend.

We assume that the students who graduate from a superior school perform better. The data confirmed that they don’t.

School doesn’t always enhance a student performance. The high achievers continue to excel no matter the education they get. In the end, the top universities take credits on those students.

“The school doesn’t make you great; you are great to begin with!”

In this case, performance and ambition drive success. We can observe the law in other fields such as tennis.

In tennis, strong athleticism, great techniques and endurance are important factors that lead to success.

A successful architect has mastered the foundations (design, structural engineering…) before he got renowned.

A black belt Master in Aikido has practiced thousands of times the basic movements.

Transition to the next chapter

Performance drives success but sometimes gauging individual performance is a challenge.

When performance can’t be measured, what determines success?

In this case, we will see that network plays a key role, not performance anymore.


3- The $2 million urinal why hard work doesn’t work

Tennis and sports in general illustrate how performance is accurately measured. The most skilled players are likely to be the most successful ones such as Federer, Nadal or Djokovic.

But there is another field where it is impossible to gauge performance: art. How can we know that a piece of art is performing better than another?

Context matters

The context that surrounds a piece of art determines its value. It doesn’t have an inherent value in itself despite what other people say: there is no quality in art.

For instance, Rembrandt’s “Man with the Golden Helmet” suddenly lost all of its value because it had been misattributed to him. The speculation vanished as soon as the announcement was made: it’s an unknown Dutch artist who painted it.

In a similar fashion, the painting of Christ by Leonardo da Vinci went from 10.000$ in 2005 to $ 450 million in 2017, why? We initially thought that the painting was attributed to one of Da Vinci’s mentees, but it turned out it was his.

Only the context changed as you can see and the reactions were immediate: success overnight.

Connection too matters

It’s still important to highlight that art has no inherent value but how we attribute it.

Countless artists died of poverty because they didn’t know how to sell their artworks. They ignored the importance of networking.

In “The formula – the universal laws of success”, the author takes the example of Basquiat and Diaz, two American artists. Both artists were known for having the same artistic DNA. We can’t even make the difference between their works.

But over the years, the one became successful, the other not.

Jean Michel Basquiat sold one of his paintings for more than a hundred million dollars. Diaz remained an underground street artist.

To explain such a success, let’s look at how the two networked.

Basquiat became famous while no one ever heard of Diaz. The first was an incredible networker and the second a loner.

Diaz went from homeless teenager to an A-list artist in just two years because he opted for an aggressive networking strategy.

When we know how to network, opportunities abound. It’s a virtual circle because the more successful you are, the more people know you and give you value.

“Performance needs to be empowered by opportunity”

Because success is not about you but about us, you need to master your network. The network actually carries the community’s response to your performance.

Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.


THE SECOND LAW: Performance is bounded, but success is unbounded


4- How much is a bottle of wine worth? How do we decide when we can’t decide?


The first part of the law “performance is bounded” means that humans’ performances are limited. “Filippo Radicchi is a fellow Science of Success researcher at Indiana University who looked at the history of Olympic records going back to 1896”.

In sports particularly, he reveals that humans will never exceed 8.28 seconds in a hundred-meter dash.  Radicchi is a revered scientist as he predicted several times the world record in one-hundred-meter dash. Usain Bolt broke the previous record and clocked 9.63 seconds as predicted by Filippo Radicchi.

This is to say that performance is bounded just as the first part of the second law states.

Wine competition

The first part of the law can also be found in wine competition. The judges fail to evaluate which wine is best because the wines all are excellent.

The author highlights that it’s impossible to measure the difference when all top contenders are excelling.

According to the data, wine competition results are flawed and that the competition largely comes down to chance.

Here is why.

Music competition

Fairness is a worthy ideal to pursue. But no matter how fair officials try to be—contests are not equal.

In music competition, we found out that the order by which the competitors perform influences the results.

In such competition, the “immediacy bias” influences the results. This bias states that we remember the most the later performers. The ones who perform during the first day have lower probability to win the competition.

Because a random draw determines who is first, second and last, we can say that fate determines the winner, not performance.

In an interview, the first interviewee rarely gets the job because the recruiters have no criteria to base their judgments. The recruiters get better as they experience more candidates.

Now that you know how difficult it is to gauge performance; the author recommends you to increase the probability of winning by sending as many applications as possible. It’s even applicable when the competitors are all highly skilled. You can’t control the orders by which you’ll pass, but you can control the number of resumes you send.


5- Superstars and power laws the rewards are limitless

To illustrate the second part of the second law “Success is unbounded”, Albert-László Barabási takes the example of Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods is the most famous golf player in the world.

There is no relationship however between Tiger Woods’ performance and his financial success.

He is known as the best player but there were times when he just barely made it with the other competitors who were as good as him.

We can see that his performance is bounded.  But overtime, he achieved considerable success because success follows what is called “power law”

Power law

In the book Essentialsm, the disciplined pursuit of less, Georg McKewon cites Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer for Microsoft once said that ““The top software developers are more productive than average software developers not by a factor of 10X or 100X or even 1,000X but by 10,000X.”

This is to say that a particular cause can produce exponential effects.

Tiger Woods’ superstar status made him famous worldwide. Sponsors and commercials rewarded him exponentially, not in a linear manner following his performance.

As the author emphasizes, by performing even a fraction better than the competitors, one can enjoy reward hundreds, even thousands of times greater, following the power law.

The second law implies that there is a disproportionate relationship between performance and success.


THE THIRD LAW: Previous success × fitness = future success


6- Exploding kittens and sock puppets how to kick-start your success

Albert-László Barabási coined the expression “preferential attachment”. It explains why the rich get richer, why the poor get poorer and ultimately why success breeds success.

Your initial success triggers more success

Exploding Kittens is a card game that you can easily find on the internet. Invented by Elan Lee, the concept was launched on Kickstarter and their initial bid was to raise $10.000. They reached their initial goal within… 8 minutes! More than this, they got $100.000, then $1 million, then $2 million! In the end, the project “amassed $8.8 million from over 200.000 backers”

What explained such a success while 70% of the projects on Kickstarter fail?

Here enters the notion of preferential attachment.

Exploding Kittens was designed by Matthew Inman who got millions of fans. The artist is famous for his website, books and comics.

Elan Lee and Matthew Inman are both friends and their collaboration primed the game for success.

Matthew Inman’s initial success triggered more success because his fans spread the word and fueled more enthusiasm when the project launched on Kickstarter.

On Google Search, the older websites with hundreds of pages are the ones that appear first: authority builds more authority.

In a similar fashion, preferential attachment explains why websites such as Google, Facebook, and YouTube attract billions of visits while most of websites are merely visible.

Getting an award is likely to get you other more because recognition leads to further recognition.

Expertise breads expertise. Success breeds success.

How to build success with preferential attachment?

The key is to start the initial momentum that will produce a snowball effect.

For example, how can you encourage your past clients to praise you publicly? How can you use their testimonies as a “social proof” to generate more success?

As mentioned in the book The formula – The universal laws of success, the most important factor is to get someone supporting you, whoever that person is. It works the same with the first sales in business, your next sales are guaranteed after the first one.

This is also why brands and big companies call for influencers to market their products. Influencers on social media already possess a huge fan base that is likely to follow their advice.

It’s a well-known verse in the Bible too and is often referred to as the Matthew effect: ““For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” (Matthew 25:29)

7- The Ear of the Beholder How Quality Defies Social Influence

How can we make the difference between what’s popular and what’s intrinsically valuable?

Sometimes, popularity doesn’t always reflect quality. You might’ve experienced that before; you downloaded a hit, listened to it and were barely satisfied. “How come people like that song?” you say.

What is fitness?

Fitness is similar to quality but has a broader sense. Fitness is a term borrowed from evolution and implies an inherent ability to outcompete other products from the same “buyers, audiences or admirers”.

Popularity influence fitness

Social influence governs our decision-making process.

We observed what the others did and it helped us survive back when we were cavemen. If a tribe runs, we will also run because danger is imminent.

Now, we inherited that tendency. Our friends’ opinions matter when it comes to evaluating a new restaurant. Ratings on Amazon weigh on our decision before we buy something.

“The more ratings a product had the more its final rating differed from its true fitness” reveals Albert in his book The formula – The universal laws of success.

Oftentimes, the first reviews influence all the others. According to the author, the first reviews were the honest ones unbiased by social influence.

Avoid herd dynamics

When we want to make an important decision, beware of the herd dynamics, the social influence that affects your decision making process.

As we’ve just seen, popularity doesn’t always reflect a product’s fitness. We should invest the time necessary and investigate more; independently of the crowd’s behavior.

Fitness matters

In the long term, fitness prevails over popularity.

For example, we never heard of Google until the late 1990s. Normally, big websites would dominate the market. Preferential attachment would have killed a “tiny” birthing Google; but it didn’t.

So what explained Google’s success? The answer lies in its fitness: quick results, relevancy and performance of their algorithms.

Similarly, Boeing outcompeted the other “dinosaurs” in the industry because they build a more efficient and reliable plane.

Future success is then conditioned by previous success and fitness.

Previous success × fitness = future success

In the long run however, fitness alone builds long-term success.

“To put it in Darwinian terms, the fittest survives—the best song, the most reliable company, the superior technology”


THE FOURTH LAW: While team success requires diversity and balance; a single individual will receive credit for the group’s achievements


8- Kind of conventional, kind of innovative, kind of blue: the importance of balance, diversity, and leadership

Interdependence remains an underlying factor of success. We can’t work alone and expect to have a breakthrough. Most of the time, success is the result of team efforts.

The main criteria that define a group achievement are:

Strong leader

Not too much leadership

Effective communication

Strong leadership

According to the data, the first criterion is to have a strong leader. Team projects are more successful than solo projects. When we analyze successful projects, there is always a leader who dominates the team’s output. A single team member contributed far more than the others. The author observed that the leader contributes more when the team gets bigger.

Surprisingly, the more the projects are dominated by a single leader, the more successful they are.

We need teamwork but most importantly we need a visionary and a skilled team builder. Take the example of Apple with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who represents Tesla and SpaceX.

As a matter of fact, diversity remains crucial in a team but still, a single leader is necessary.

The other members offer their expertise and “fill the holes”. The leader sticks everything together and makes the project a whole.

Too much leadership is bad

If we want to create a dream team, does intelligence matter? What about talents?

The formula – The universal laws of success reveals that “too-much-talent” in professional sports can benefit the team but only to a point. This approach to teamwork can be counterproductive because there is a desire for dominance. The success of the team is conditioned by the degree of cooperation within the group.

When there are too many outstanding players, ego clashes one and another and the team suffers. Ineffective teamwork creates bickering, backstabbing and bullying.

Therefore, individual performance is not a key determinant of a team’s performance.

Effective communication

Diversity is important in a group. One of the hallmarks of a successful combination is the quality of the communication: The stronger the bonds between collaborators, the better it is for the team.

“The best teams were those whose members shared discussion time and listened to one another.”

In successful companies, the data show the importance of face-to-face communication. Email turned out to be the least effective. “We’re talking about the old-fashioned, informal kind of chitchat, when people make eye contact, speak animatedly, share stories, take the time to laugh or ask questions or listen.”


9- The algorithm that found the overlooked scientist it’s about perception, not performance

Oftentimes, we just say Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Elon Musk’s Tesla. We completely ignore the engineers and all the other teams behind the great work at these companies.

The other employees are invisible and Elon Musk, the leader takes most if not all of the credit.

Again, the notion of preferential attachment plays a key role here: the rich get richer and the person with the most credits get more credit.

In a similar fashion, Steve Jobs got all the credits for the IPod and the IPhone.

We come to the conclusion that the person who gets the credits is not always the person (or the team) who actually did the work.

In this way, Albert claims how credit is independent of the performance but rather other people’s perception.

How to be successful?

When you understand the fourth law: “While team success requires diversity and balance; a single individual will receive credit for the group’s achievements.” it is recommended to pair with a successful figure but build your own credit later.

Otherwise, you’ll risk being overshadowed. Remember that we only give credit to people who already have credit.

“In other words, too much time spent in someone else’s shadow eclipses our contributions.”

Women are disadvantaged

Credit misallocation also shows in other areas, mostly with gender.

A female coauthor is likely to be completely ignored. Chances are high that they will see no gains at all. When collaborating, the return of investment remains slim if you were a woman.

“Female economics professors are twice as likely to be denied tenure as their male colleagues”

The author maintains that if you are a female economist, you might not publish at all rather than publishing with men.

“Credit is often assigned, as the First Law dictates—by invisible networks, not by individual arbitrators.”


THE FIFTH LAW: With persistence, success can come at any time


10- Einstein’s error why hard work, combined with skill, wins in the end

Einstein once observed that a person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so. That was a blunt affirmation and it’s where he’s mistaken, as the Formula- the Universal Laws of Success reveals.

But why did Einstein say that in the first place?

For a long time, we assumed that innovation and discovery are matters of age, reserved only to the young people.

Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton for example tracked more than two thousand scientists and inventors, from da Vinci, Newton to Edison. As he concluded, most of them made their mark on history before or around the age of 39. This somewhat confirms the relation between creativity and youth.

But Albert-László Barabási’s studies reveal something completely different. Actually, the data show that creativity has no age.

It’s true that scientists made breakthroughs at their young ages. But the fact remains that we can achieve success at any moment.

Age doesn’t matter

The truth is: productivity decreases with time. What Albert found is a correlation between productivity and the chance of a breakthrough.

The more productive you are, the higher your chance for a breakthrough. It’s the same when you buy more lottery tickets: the more tickets you bought the higher your chance to win.

In the end then, age doesn’t matter. Young scientists persist more in their projects. Their burst of productivity occurs mainly during the first two decades of their professional lives. That’s why they are likely to make a breakthrough during this period of their lives.

As we age, our focus diverges and our priorities shift. “Late-career professionals tend to buy fewer lottery tickets, so they inevitably have fewer wins“

Persistence is the key

“With persistence success can come at any time”

The fifth law explains why Colonel Sanders succeeded in creating KFC and why Ray Kroc acquired McDonald’s at 53. Their age didn’t matter, it’s mostly their persistence and their willingness to try and fail over again.

To predict success, the Formula of Success is as follows:

S = Q * r

Q is what Albert-László Barabási calls Q-factor, it is “Your ability to turn an idea into a discovery is equally important, and that varies dramatically from person to person.”

R is the value of the idea. It’s the inherent importance or novelty of the idea. For example, a time machine has a high “R” as it’s highly valuable. Another “Facebook” is unlikely to happen hence a low “R”.

No matter how high Q-factor you put in, if the idea is a flop, success won’t happen.

We then need to assess whether it’s our vocation or not. If it is, then we need to persist.

Gaining momentum

With preferential attachment, we’ve seen that success breeds success. Once a project is successful, its growth is guaranteed.

The fifth law “With persistence success can come at any time” confirms that we need to gain momentum and then ride the wave of success. Achieve recognition once, get attention and preferential attachment will propel you to success.

I’ve always asked myself why Tony Robbins publishes two books in a row: Money: Master the game and then one year later Unshakeable. I noticed that Tim Ferriss also did the same with a four-hour workweek then the four-hour body. It’s preferential attachment. They rid the wave of the previous book’s success.

“A single best seller would always leave its author swimming in fame and royalties. One successful patent would give an inventor the kind of endless wealth common only in fairy tales. A discovery would earn a scientist millions of citations”