Every time I hear of a study suggesting that doing (whatever) is important for success, I ask myself if the authors interpreted the correlations correctly.
And I rarely think they did.
Take for example this recent article describing how people with “open networks” are far more successful than those with “closed networks.” In this context, it means that the more new ideas you are exposed to, the more likely you are a success.
That interpretation makes perfect sense to me. Seeing lots of new ideas is probably a good thing in most situations.
But another interpretation is that the folks with the personalities and resources to succeed are more likely to also have open networks. It doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other.
The good people manufacturing mature products, such as concrete, probably don’t see many new ideas. And I would guess they don’t attract the world’s most ambitious and talented employees to their industry because the upside potential feels limited.
My ambitious personality ruled out any field with no upside potential. So I cartoon, write, and work on my Internet start-up. Each of those career choices benefit from open networks and a high flow of new ideas. I choose my projects for their upside potential; the open networks just come with the deal.
To be fair, the article says open networks “predict” success as opposed to causing it. (“Predict” sounds like language used by the people doing the studies and it does not assume causation.) But the article hints at causation because it treats the correlation as important.
My observation is that smart people tend to gravitate toward jobs that have a lot of new ideas swirling around. When smart people succeed at higher rates than others, do we need to drill too deeply to understand why?