Being smart and talented isn't enough to make you successful, according to new research.

The world's most successful people are simply the luckiest, a simulation of a thousand 40-year careers shows.

While we know luck plays a role in success, scientists say that up until now its influence has been widely underestimated, according to the Daily Mail.

Previous research has shown that top performers are often the luckiest people, who have benefited from rich-get-richer dynamics that boost their initial fortune.


Chengwei Lau of Warwick Business School said: "For example, Bill Gates's upper class background enabled him to gain extra programming experience when less than 0.01 per cent of his generation then had access to computers.

"His mother's social connection with IBM's chairman enabled him to gain a contract from the then leading PC company, generating a lock-in effect that was crucial for establishing the software empire.

"Of course, Gates's talent and effort play important roles in the extreme success of Microsoft. But that's not enough for creating such an outlier."

In a new study, scientists at the University of Catania in Sicily, Italy, created a computer model of 1,000 virtual people.

Some people were given more talent, intelligence or money than the average worker, while others were given less, to mimic real life.

During a 40-year career, some individuals experienced "lucky events" - opportunities to boost their career that they could exploit using their talent or intelligence.

But some were also hit by "unlucky events" that took wealth away from them.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Photo / AP
Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Photo / AP

At the end of the 40-year simulation, the scientists looked at the characteristics of the richest individuals.


It showed that while successful people tended to have some level of either talent, wealth or intelligence, those who rose to the top were almost always the luckiest.

"It is evident that the most successful individuals are also the luckiest ones, and the less successful individuals are also the unluckiest ones," the researchers, led by physicist Professor Alessandro Pluchino, wrote in their paper.

The model consistently reflected the wealth distribution of real world societies, known as the 80:20 rule.

"The '80-20' rule is respected, since 80 per cent of the population owns only 20 per cent of the total capital, while the remaining 20 per cent owns 80 per cent of the same capital," the researchers wrote.

This may have been fair if it corresponded to talent, but the researchers found this wasn't the case, with only the "luckiest" individuals rising to success.

"The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa," the researchers wrote.


"Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck."

The team showed this by ranking individuals according to the number of lucky and unlucky events they experienced during their careers.

They said their research shows the way many enterprises are awarded funding - such as scientific studies or tech startups - may be inefficient.

Instead of rewarding those who have been successful in the past, funding bodies should evenly distribute wealth between all entrants.

This is the best strategy to take advantage of the part that luck plays in successful ideas, the team suggests.

The research was posted to the pre-publish website Arxiv, and had not been peer reviewed at the time this article was published.