About technical knowledge and financial success

Few months ago I came across the picture of a slide on the internet, stating this sentence:

«85% of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical knowledge.». ~ Carnegie Institute of Technology

The picture can be found here on Facebook.

While I agree that having a good personality and understanding of yourself, being able to speak and work with others are the conditio sine qua non, the indispensable and essential condition for financial success in life, the overall sentence gives me revulsion.

I love the metaphor attributed to Bernard of Chartres, that says that we are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes), meaning that whatever we achieve today is thanks to what our ancestors did before us. This concept is not new: the attribution to Bernard is due to John of Salisbury and dates back to 1159, when John wrote in his Metalogicon: “Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”.

Saying that technical knowledge has a marginal influence on your financial success is like saying that technology magically grew on trees. It’s disrespectful of people of science who lived in the past and disrespectful of people around the world who work to improve today’s technology. If it wasn’t for technical knowledge, in the morning we would need to go out of our caves, dig a hole in the ground to do our business. Unless we decided to make it on the floor of our cave. If we can sit comfortably on toilet bowls, it’s because of technical knowledge and hard work done by somebody, not appearance. Would you know how to work ceramic to build a toilet bowl? And the metal pipes that connect your home to the water system? What about the water system itself?

Someone told me: «financial success usually doesn’t belong to the inventors, great minds, scientists, rather to the seller…let’s take the most obvious example of Apple». I agree that product sellers often make more money than inventors: if an inventor is not able to sell her work, her inventions will stay hidden and die with her. But if it wasn’t for the inventor, there would be no item for the seller. Would iPhone exists if it wasn’t for technical knowledge that was built generation after generation, piece after piece? No. Would Apple sell if their products didn’t actually work? Did Apple exist before the invention of computers, telecommunications, programming languages, plastic materials, machinery to work metal and to build microchips? Would Apple manage to sell its products to people who lack access to electricity? Would they be able to distribute the products without means of transport? Would means of transport exist without technical knowledge? Would marketers and product sellers have financial success if it wasn’t for the know-how and technical knowledge that was built by people? No. So, it’s right to say that 100% of financial success of anybody working at Apple is thanks to technical knowledge, plus traces of something else.

Of course you can be limited and egoistically take into consideration only your small piece of garden, and say that your financial success is not due to any technical knowledge; and insist that a project manager at Apple makes more money than a programmer. Fair enough, limiting your point of view can make such statement correct in that context. But it doesn’t change the fact that, at the end of the day, both project manager and programmer are making a life and money thanks to technical knowledge.

Besides, how can you be certain that project management requires less technical knowledge than software development? I saw this is a common opinion among the advocates of presentation over knowledge, but it’s just an assumption. The job of other people always look simple.

This way of thinking is also poor from a human point of view.

  • It takes for granted the job of people who are focusing themselves on technical skills.
  • It takes for granted comforts that are still not accessible to everyone. Things like access to electricity, internet, clear water shouldn’t be taken for granted just because they weren’t invented yesterday.
  • It seems to suggest that financial success is a measure of people’s value or a human’s best objective in life. This is a concept dear to the blindest people who come from wealthy families and are not gifted with much intelligence or insight.

Going back to the main topic, if that is really what they teach at Carnegie Institute of Technology, I’m glad I attended my studies at Polytechnic Institute of Torino. Being a graphic designer, the presentation and communicational skills were always important to me and to my teachers. Nevertheless, we’ve been taught that product quality is the primary objective and that it comes from technical knowledge, not from marketing.

L’arrosto è più importante del fumo, non viceversa.

Written on October 30, 2016

Roberto Prevato

Italian graphic designer, applications architect, DevOps, web applications specialist, artist wannabe.
Metal head fond of philosophy and arts.