Business, Science, and 10Xers

Authors Jim Collins and Morten Hanson write:

“Recently, we completed a nine-year research study of some of the most extreme business successes of modern times. We examined entrepreneurs who built small enterprises into companies that outperformed their industries by a factor of 10 in highly turbulent environments. We call them 10Xers, for “10 times success.”


The 10X cases and the control group both had luck, good and bad, in comparable amounts, so the evidence leads us to conclude that luck doesn’t cause 10X success. The crucial question is not, “Are you lucky?” but “Do you get a high return on luck? [ROL]”


This ability to achieve a high ROL at pivotal moments has a huge multiplicative effect for 10Xers. They zoom out to recognize when a luck event has happened and to consider whether they should let it disrupt their plans.”

I wonder to what extent this is applicable to scientific discovery. We already know that many major scientific discoveries were ‘luck’ – something unexpected happened, and then a scientist was able to notice it and follow it up.

I think one of the key phrases in the above quotation is ‘let it disrupt their plans’. The 10X cases were able to not only recognize that something important had happened, but to take massive action on it:

“Getting a high ROL requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life and not letting up.”

To what extent does the typical bureaucratic funding structure make this sort of process in science difficult? If a scientist notices something strange, do they have the flexibility to pursue it? Often times, for significant scientific breakthroughs (’10X’ scientific progress) the current theory makes the theory suggested by the evidence ‘not make sense’, say. So similarly, are they able to get a grant to pursue the implications of a possible ’10X’ chance event?

One thought on “Business, Science, and 10Xers

  1. Bruce Charlton

    I knew a scientist who had a stroke of luck which could/ would have changed his career and made him a big shot (not Nobel stuff or anything, but a game changer) – but he did not disrupt his plans and devoted maybe 10 percent of time and effort to the new line of work. It fizzled out, credit went elsewhere and the impact was dissipated – just didn’t happen really. This was a modest, middling kind of scientist, and this was *why* he was a modest, middling kind of scientist.

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