Success and Failure Through Luck

By editor on February 20, 2018 — 2 mins read

One of my general life principles is, people conflate luck and skill all the time. The things that work are actually not that meaningful, because you don’t really know, in the moment, why something is working. Oftentimes when things don’t work, you have a very good sort of trail of breadcrumbs, that that thing is not the right thing in that moment, for a bunch of important reasons.

And so I have to tell people a lot, I’ve learned more when I worked at AOL — which was highly dysfunctional, extremely political, archaic, decaying organization at that time — than I’ve learned in many other situations. You’re in a situation where you have to unpack why all of these things aren’t working, and then tell yourself, if I’m ever in this position again, these are all the things that I’m never gonna do.

That was probably the most instructive team situation that I was in. And then when things really work, like at Facebook, you’re kind of just like, “Is it working because I showed up today? What if I didn’t show up today, would it still be working?” Probably most of it’s working because Mark showed up in 2004. You have to approach it with just a tremendous amount of humility.

When things work, longevity comes because you don’t take yourself too seriously. When things don’t work, it’s a perfect opportunity to do what most people don’t spend enough time doing, which is actually trying to gain true knowledge because society’s incentives just aren’t built that way.

Society’s incentives are built to wrap a bunch of nonsensical BS and terminology and verbiage on top of things that are working, so you can basically pretend that you know what you are doing. And society undervalues things that don’t work because we want to lionize winners and we basically throw away people that don’t win.

That’s why Silicon Valley, by the way, is so special. The value system is actually inverted. The people that have started things that were spectacular flame-outs actually get more respect than the people that have actually built something that worked. And the reason is that we appreciate that ambition. And we’re like well, if but for the grace of God, we as well.

The line between that failure and success is so minute that you see a lot of these folks that get on the right side of that, and all of a sudden it’s like you know, their… I was gonna say their shit doesn’t smell but I know we’re on TV. So, their poop doesn’t smell. And you just laugh at them because they’re just complete clowns in real life. (3:20)

Posted in: Life

Editor's Note

These are Chamath Palihapitiya's words. They are probably some of the best thoughts on VC, business, and life, but were scattered around the Internet. They live now in this archive.