Skill vs Luck revisited

Saw a tweet from Columbia Business School last week (the school not the adcom) with a video that is so worth watching:

Skill vs Luck tweet from Columbia

The video is here. It’s totally interesting. It seemed like everything this guy said applies to the bschool admissions process. How much of it is outright luck, like winning the lottery, and how much is skill, like winning a marathon? We think it’s pretty much in the middle.

Back in June 2011, we did a whole post about an article of his on skill and luck. But if you click just one link today, skip that old blahg post and instead, make it that first one (here) for the video.

It’s a short video, just 6 minutes.

The best part is at about 3:19 where she asks him about being the underdog and what are the winning strategies when you’re the new market entrant (or the applicant with a less-than-rosy profile, perhaps?), versus the industry leader. Seems like you can extrapolate some of that out to strategies that different bschool candidates might take, based on how many boxes they can tick in terms of strong qualifications for a top MBA program.

Of course, we apparently see everything through the bschool admissions lens. A little tilted that way, we are.

Thoughts on this? We know some people think that certain schools, like HBS, are a pure crapshoot, no way to predict outcomes there at all, it’s completely luck of the draw. Of course, our experience is the opposite of that …

But just like this guy says in the interview, when we lose we tend to chalk it up to ‘bad luck’ and when we win, we claim credit due to our ‘skill.’ Just human nature.

EssaySnark likes to think that we have a certain control over our own destiny, based on the amount of work we put forth. No, we won’t all end up at Harvard, but there’s definitely an excellent MBA program waiting to welcome everyone who puts in the ground game. We tend to ascribe outcomes mostly to skill.

Of course, we have our built-in bias – if it were all luck, then all that we do in ripping essays apart and coaching on interview skills and the rest is for naught. So our inherent agenda clearly invites us to say that this is a skills game.

What do you think?


  1. livetorise says

    Very helpful and informative video and post. Thanks EssaySnark.

    I feel it is much closer to skill than luck. There is some luck but lot more skill.
    With so many aspects — GMAT, GPA, personal record of accomplishments and communication of those accomplishments through essays, etc.,) — evaluated in admissions, the process definitely falls much closer to skills side of the spectrum. Things like ethnicity you are born into, competition with same profile, male vs female, timing etc., may count towards luck, but that is only smaller percentage overall.

    • essaysnark says

      Inclined to agree re: the skill thing in general, livetorise – obviously our work is about helping people to increase ‘skill’ in the important aspect of how they pitch themselves, and we do see a direct correlation between those ‘skill’ aspects and outcomes. But the author claims that investing is mostly luck, which surprised us, and made us wonder if that’s more true in this bschool game too. Dunno. Maybe at the best schools (most competitive/selective) it’s more of a factor?

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