Creativity, Innovation

Talent: if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it.

Maths is a fraud. Centuries of exaltation and glorification are misplaced. Or why has a discipline that underpins all calculations been unable to come up with the formula for success? The equation to be oprah-rich? What’s the use of Chaos Theory, Euler’s Polyhedra Formula or the Fibonacci Sequence if it can’t tell you how to get some moolah into your pocket? We’ve been had by the likes of Archimedes, John Nash and señor Pythagoras. 

But recently I came across the formula for success, partially redeeming the uselessness of maths. It was propounded by Albert-László Barabási, a physicist and the Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern University (which hopefully means he knows what he’s talking about).


Learn it, fellas. It might be the difference between being a bottom feeder and King Kong. 

I’ll break S=Qr down for you. Let’s start with the r in the equation.

We all agree that every project, product or service starts with an idea. The importance or novelty of this idea isn’t always known in advance, so the idea is a ‘random idea’ which we will denote r, letting r stand for the value of the idea.

If you suddenly had a brain wave of exporting tea to China, ergo, a very stupid idea, the value of your r – the idea – will be pretty lame, near zero. However, if you have an idea on how to remove the carbohydrate in eba or rice without affecting the taste, then the value of your r will go through the roof and you can give me a call.

But as everyone knows, ideas are cheap. Anyone can have an idea (I mean, Sowore ran for President). What is defining is your ability or innate skill to execute the idea. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi calls this ability or innate skill the person’s Q-factor.

So as you might have guessed, when you have a high-impact idea r and the high ability Q to execute the idea, then success S happens. S=Qr.

Very simple. But it gets interesting.

If you have a weak idea r, like opening a supermarket in Ikeja City Mall, but have a very high Q-factor to execute it, you still won’t make Forbes list. That’s because the low value of your r will diminish the high value of your Q-factor.

The reverse is also the case. If you come across an idea with a high r value but have a low ability to execute it, you will still be a slave to salary advance. A high-impact r has to meet with a high Q-factor for success to happen. No middle ground.

Nothing revolutionary so far. However, there’s an unpalatable part of Barabasi’s thesis: your Q-factor remains the same throughout your career.

Meaning you’ve either got skill or you don’t. Hear him:

“Once my team and I figured out how to measure a scientist’s Q-factor, we learned it remained unchanged throughout her career. That’s right. The data was clear: We all start our careers with a given Q, high or low, and that Q-factor stays with us until retirement. Well, I had a hard time believing that I was as good a scientist when I wrote my first research paper at twenty-two, the one with absolutely zero impact, as I am now. And you probably feel you weren’t anywhere near as good a teacher, writer, doctor or salesperson in your twenties as you are now. However, we spent six months rechecking our findings, and we came to the same conclusion.”

But that’s ridiculous!” you might say. “People develop skills they don’t have all the time.” 

According to Barabasi, yea, it will appear that they do. However, whatever skill they develop can only be marginal compared to someone with an innate ability. 

Cue in Lionel Messi. Maestro. Effortless. Natural. Then cue in Jordan Henderson.

Yea, I don’t like Liverpool very much.

With S=Qr, if you just don’t have what it takes, you just don’t have what it takes.

Think about Jeff Bezos. Bezos himself said: ”I thought I wanted to be a scientist when I went to Princeton. Halfway through, I figured out I wasn’t smart enough to be a physicist.” So he opted for business and founded Amazon. Dude hasn’t done too shabby.

Barabasi supports his assertion with his own story: “In high school, I was preparing to be a sculptor. But I wasn’t good, to be honest. Even back then, I was better at physics. So I followed my Q-factor, abandoning the art studio for the research lab.”

My homeboy Sol tells me all the time “Do you see a man skillful and experienced in his work? He will stand [in honor] before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.”

You know my homeboy Sol, right? Son of Dave?

But what if I have a low Q-factor,” you might ask. “Any hope for me?”


Said Barabasi “ …there’s some hard advice I can offer you: If you are repeatedly failing at breaking through, you may very well be pursuing the wrong vocation.”


I knew it! I should have been in politics! I could have been Dino!

Apparently, the best way out of this unsavoury news is for you to accept that you are naturally lousy at some things and that no matter how hard you try you could never be good enough at them to be a huge success. Instead, find opportunities that you are best suited for and lay siege to it.

And that is very important. Admitting that you suck at this and that. Redemption starts with telling yourself this truth.

We are all born not to be great at everything. Never believe all those deluded motivational quips “You can be anything you put your mind to.” No, you can’t. You can never be as good as Fela at rolling a joint.

But the good news is there is something you are good at. Something(s) you are better in than many. Where you have a disproportionately high Q-factor. Find it and concentrate your energy around it. If S=Qr is true, success is given.

The other good thing about S=Qr also is that success can happen at any age.

Barabasi made reference to John Fenn, Alan Rickman and Nelson Mandela.

By all standards, Fenn was a late starter all his life. But he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in his mid-eighties.

Alan Rickman’s first movie role didn’t come until he was 46.

President Muhammad Buhari became President at…you get the idea.

The point is, once you have a high Q-factor, you can be successful at any age.

Thank goodness for that!

By the way, if you haven’t seen Dogma (1999), you haven’t lived. It is insanely hilarious. If you are not Catholic, that is. Alan Rickman was Metatron, the voice of God, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were fallen angels trying to find their way back to heaven and Chris Rock was Rufus, the 13th apostle. You’d laugh your socks off.

So, once your Q-factor is high and the value of your r is also high, all that is left for you to do is keep at it. Persevere. You ain’t a quitter, are you? Sol used to say “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”

My man Sol. Been there. Done that.

But thanks to Monsieur Barabasi, I’m now asking myself if I’m in a career that uses my innate Q-factor. If I’m churning out ideas I’m uniquely built to execute. It’s a question all of us should ask sooner than later. 

Because life expectancy in Nigeria is 55 years.

It is 71 in North Korea.

In North Korea!


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