The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success by Albert-László Barabási

8. Kind of Conventional, Kind of Innovative, Kind of Blue

  • The Fourth Law: While team success requires diversity and balance, a single individual will receive credit for the group’s achievements.
  • Today success is mostly the result of team efforts. For a team to succeed, some of its members must overlap, bridging diversity with shared experiences and close-knit relationships. A mix of newcomers and incumbents, tried-and-true friends and distant acquaintances collaborating for the first time is crucial for team success.
  • What seems to work is one committed leader with a vision and determination. Too much leadership results in bickering, backstabbing, and bullying. With too many outstanding players teams may suffer as egos get in the way. Studies show that communication within a team is key as it allows you to harness collective intelligence. Email is not a valuable form of communication for problem solving or creativity. For that, you need people to talk to each other. Make sure that people in your office or school have time to talk to each other.

9. The Algorithm That Found the Overlooked Scientist

  • We start by looking at how credit is given in the world of science. With most serious work done by teams, the person getting the credit is the one who has the most consistent track record in the area in question. This reinforces the notion of preferential attachment and results in the same rich-get-richer phenomenon. Although he didn’t do much in the way of real work, Steve Jobs gets credit for the iPhone. Working with a recognized name may be useful at the start of one’s career, but you need to break out on your own to realize greater success. Too much time spent in someone’s shadow eclipses your own contributions. You should also look for uncharted territory to claim.
  • Sexist and racial stereotypes are also in play. Women economists who collaborate get almost no credit unlike men in the field. This is why they are twice as likely to be denied tenure. When Darlene Love sang for Phil Spector she went nowhere. She even sang the hit He’s a Rebel that the Crystals lip-synched. She finally went out on her own, controlled her career, and made it to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

10. Einstein’s Error

  • The Fifth Law: With persistence, success can come at any time.
  • Einstein felt that for a physicist great discoveries had to happen early in one’s career. This is true to the extent that young people accomplish more than their older peers. Albert’s team confirmed this but also noted that young people are simply more productive. It turns out that any paper a scientist publishes has an equal chance of making a big splash just like your odds of winning a lottery are the same every time you buy a ticket. Since young people crank out more papers than older people, they are more likely to win the success lottery. The good news for older people like myself is that creativity and innovation have no age limits.
  • Productivity can be your most valuable asset. To accomplish something you need an idea (or a random idea, let’s call it r), and the ability to turn the idea into something important. Albert calls this ability your Q-factor. This gives the equation: Success = Qr. The idea of the iPhone and Apple’s excellent execution is a good example of how this works. The advice here is that if you repeatedly fail to break through, you may be in the wrong vocation. Albert wanted to be a sculptor but realized he wasn’t good enough. You should also note that success wanes because everything ages. All projects have a shelf life, but creative people don’t. Another way to exploit your Q-factor is to collaborate as it is likely to make you more productive.


  • Now that you know the universal laws of success you can use them to promote your own success. You can also use them to mentor others including children you work with. Be sure to work like your most important project is the one you are working on now. The more you try the more your Q-factor can shine. We all get lucky from time to time so be ready to take advance when luck comes your way. This may be one of the most important books I have summarized on this blog so get the book, read it, and reread this summary. Thanks, Albert.

Albert-László Barabási

  • Albert is a professor of network science at Northeastern University, where he directs the Center for Complex Network Research. He holds appointments in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Central European University in Budapest. He is the author of Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything, and We Do and Linked: The New Science of Networks. His work lead to the discovery of scale-free networks and he is one of the most cited scientists today. Follow him on Twitter @barabasi.
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