What do Sergey Brin, Larry Paige, Bill Gates, etc., Really Have in Common?

Here's a different take on the key attributes that the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs are often claimed to have held in common. You've no doubt seen it as I have—it's a favorite speakers' technique to cite highly successful people as models for all of us. It's a handy way to bolster a set of admirable attributes they already had in mind and want to promulgate for their own purposes.

How many times have you heard or seen this popular refrain; something like: "What do Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Paige, Will Wright, Jimmy Wales and Jeff Bezos have in common?"

Then what usually follows is a nice list of personality attributes (things like ambition, drive, determination, get-up-and-go, stubborn refusal to give up or quit, maybe even: creativity, rebelliousness, introversion, geekiness, etc.) that just happen to nicely support the speaker's theme. But these are soft personality attributes that any researcher knows are devilishly difficult to measure unambiguously. To me it's such a self-serving argument that it's self-evidently a suspicious one.

Instead, I say all these successful high-tech innovators and successful business leaders had these three things in common:

  1. Attended a Montessori school or pre-school
  2. Knew how to write code
  3. Grew up in a family that was financially secure

The only one I know is true is #1, but I bet the others are true as well. They're certainly more likely to be true and they're much more objective and measurable, so at least I can be proven wrong. Am I?

We constantly hear, instead, about those soft but inspiring attributes that motivational speakers would have us believe they all held in common. Do we really think these six different individual personalities are all that similar on such actually quite complex characteristics? Besides, who has ever measured and profiled all six of them in that way?