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Researchers to explore the ‘Science of Success’

Laszlo Barabasi, Distinguished Professor of Physics, is director of the Center for Complex Network Research. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

We once thought it took a genius to be successful, but this is simply not the case. “In spite of all the claims to the contrary, success is a collective phenomena: You are only successful because many of us think that you are,” said Albert-László Barabási, distinguished professor of physics and director of Northeastern’s Center for Complex Network Research. Hence the fingerprints of success are spread around society, leaving detectable, measurable, and predictable traces that scientists can now use to examine one of the most desirable traits of the human experience.

On Monday June 17, in an inaugural symposium on the Science of Success, Barabási and his colleagues across a horizon of disciplines will discuss the many ways this emerging field can and will impact everything from politics to internet memes.

The topic of success is diverse to say the least. While scientists first began investigating the phenomenon with respect to their own field, it reaches into virtually every other sector of society. The same methods can be used to understand how an Olympic athlete gets the gold as for how a presidential candidate becomes president.

Because of this diversity, the tools and perspectives vary, engaging social scientists, computer scientists, economists, physicists, and mathematicians alike. The goal of the upcoming symposium is to bring these diverse communities together to expand the conversation and its impact.

The day-long event is organized by the Center of Complex Network Research at Northeastern University and will be hosted by the Institute of Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University on Monday, June 17.

The speakers come from within and outside of the U.S. and include academic and industry leaders in business, management, journalism, and physics to name a few, and will discuss a broad range of topics. For example, Duncan Watts, principle researcher at Microsoft Research, will examine the success of “cultural objects,” like movies, books, and music. An organizational behavior researcher from Harvard Business School will argue that leaders are usually unimportant and dispensable for societal growth, taking a close look at the few times when they aren’t. Authors Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield will discuss their book, “The Art of Doing,” in which they interviewed dozens of “superachievers” about their strategies for success. Northeastern’s Chaoming Song will discuss the predictability of scientific discovery based on the understanding of citation patterns.