Q & A - 5 Steps to make it big - Part 1

  1. When you are born:

In the mid-1980’s, a Canadian psychologist drew attention to the iron law of Candian hockey: “in any elite group of hockey players—the very best of the best—40 percent of the players will have been born between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September and 10 percent between October and December”. Looks like if you were a Candian kid trying to make into one of the big hockey league, the first step to success would have been to be born as close to January as possible.

But what if you were a kid aspiring to make it big in the software business? The magic years, not months, to be born in seems to be 1954-56. Find out when Bill Gates, Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft), Steve Ballmer (the third richest man in Microsoft), Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt (chief executive officer of Google currently), Bill Joy (one of the 4 founders of Sun Microsystems), Scott McNealy, VinodKhosla and Andy Bechtolshiem (the other 3 founders) were born.

Relative age was the term coined by the same Canadian psychologist mentioned in the first paragraph. Who was he and how did he explain the first scenario leading to similar theories explaining the second and more such related magic months and years?


  1. And the Answer is…..The psychologist was Roger Barnsley. Now, Canada’s eligibility cutoff for age class hockey is January 1. This means that a boy who turns 10 on January 2 plays alongside someone who would turn 10 only at the end of the year. In Canada, the hockey selection and training are very intensive—thousands of Canadian boys start playing even before kinder garden and at every level, players are sorted and evaluated, and only the most talented move on to the next level eventually forming the Major Junior league . A difference of 11 months might not be a big deal when you are 20 years old but at the age of 10, a child who is 11 months older than the other is often bigger and more coordinated and hence gets selected in the “rep” squad—the all-star team. Here, this child will get better coaching, will compete against better teammates and will play around 55 more games per season than a child who has been left behind in the “house squad”, and thus, also practices as much as three times more than the other child. Similarly, cut-off date for baseball: July 31. Result: More major league players are born in August than any other month. International soccer: when eligibility date used to be August 1, 135 players were born in August, September and October as compared to only 22 in May, June and July.

Note that in basketball  in the US, the selection, streaming and differentiation—resulting in the skewed age distribution—does not exist, as a result of which a child who maybe behind physically can still get the same amount of practice as there are numerous no. of basketball courts and so many people willing to play, unlike hockey. Same goes for cricket in India, which is why we do not see skewed age distribution in these sports.

The second scenario does not have to do with relative age, rather how old these people Bill Gates et al. were when the dawn of the age of personal computers—January 1975 arrived. If they were already out of college in 1975 and had settled down with a job for a couple of years then, they wouldn’t be putting themselves in risk. Thus, we can rule out all those born before 1952. If they were too young in 1975, they missed the revolution, so we can rule out people born after ’58 as well. Ideally, these people would be around twenty-twenty one, born in 1954-55—hence the magic years.

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