We often hear about the qualities and attributes that successful people possess or that you need to cultivate. Some believe that success is a result of innate talent, others argue that it’s the result of hard work and perseverance, and yet different people try to sell you their one weird trick for it. Realistically, most people either over-focus on one aspect, ignore others, or are simply completely off. The framework I operate on is pretty simple while covering the most important parts at a high level.

0th Factor: Luck - The Unavoidable One

Luck is a significant factor that affects our lives, whether we realize it or not. You can be plenty hardworking but get dealt a bad hand or incapable of achieving much but lucky to not have to. Even how smart, or conscientious you are is ultimately determined by a lottery but having a model where we just declare everything to be luck (even if true) isn’t exactly useful

1st Factor: General Intelligence - Your Raw Intellectual Power

General intelligence, often correlated with but not quite IQ, is a significant factor in achieving success. IQ itself correlates with nearly anything that matters and while it’s not the only determinant of success, intelligence undoubtedly plays a critical role in problem-solving, decision-making, making connections, learning new skills and more. A higher IQ can give individuals a competitive edge in their careers and personal lives.

Many tasks can indeed be achieved as long as you are over a certain baseline of intelligence (sometimes low, sometimes higher) but at minimum higher intelligence allows you to achieve some subtasks faster and arrive at breakthroughs sooner. It is also important to note that as long as you are over said baseline (which differs for different tasks), you are not necessarily limited by, say, being a bit slower. Hell, if we consider a simplified case of just speed then someone who works 50% faster than you but for only an hour a day will still achieve less overall than you if you are working 2 hours. This brings us to:

2nd Factor: Conscientiousness - Doing the work

Conscientiousness, or the ability to work hard and put in the necessary hours, is absolutely key. I’ve seen plenty of smart people (or at least with high IQ scores) achieve little because they don’t put in the time to do so. In fact, I consider this factor the one I am ‘worst’ at and am always impressed by people who consistently put in the work day after day.

Unlike Luck or General Intelligence which are out of your control and generally fixed respectively, conscientiousness or at least the parts of it that matter is something that can be improved. Building habits, making lists, working on any personal blockers or taking ADHD medications because you previously had undiagnosed ADHD (surprisingly common currently) are some of the ways that at least some people can improve. If you have any bigger ‘intellectual’ goals but find that you are not really working on them, then this is likely the factor you should be focusing on.

3rd Factor: Rationality - Making Better Decisions

Rationality here is defined as the ability to use intelligence effectively and make well-informed decisions. It matters both for small decisions and even more so for big ones. What does it matter if you are extremely smart and put in many hours of work when the thing you work at is, say, Theology (and many sharp people are working on that) or Ads (except as a precursor to making more money). Choosing effective things to work on is extremely important. Say your goal is to help people, a smart hard-working person can join a local charity and do a great thing for them, a more rational person might start by looking at which charities help the most people first, then how they can help that charity the most and go from there (yes, this is basically Effective Altruism).

Further, making more cost-effective decisions along the way is also important. Perhaps reading a tangentially related post to what you are doing just seems useful but isn’t as useful as working on what you should be, or maybe videos are surprisingly effective in the niche you are working on and it will be much higher value than the way you promote your cause now. Being able to succeed at tasks, and spending time succeeding at tasks is very good, but it’s much better if you pick effective tasks for your goal.

This factor is also at least partially learnable although it’s hard to say to what extent. The approach I prefer, as stale as the advice might seem is to read the sequences.


Success in life is a complex and multifaceted concept, and achieving it requires a combination of factors. The impact of those factors is multiplicative, and you can for the most part compensate in one place for deficiencies in another. In particular, figuring out how to put more hours into achieving your goals (yes, I know, not very exciting or novel advice), as well as figuring out better which tasks (and even goals) would be most effective are the parts you likely have the most control over.