I’ve said before that I see macro-talent allocation as one of the world’s most important challenges - and one of my primary motivations for co-founding Entrepreneur First
(I talked about this at greater length on Invest Like the Best
back in January). So I was excited to come across this amazing paper
by Ruchir Agarwal and Patrick Gaulé. It asks how important talent is for knowledge production and how much the world misses out on when exceptional people don’t have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The answer to both questions, at least within mathematics, appears to be “a lot”. The authors look at participants in the International Mathematical Olympiad
(IMO), in which exceptionally gifted high schools students compete to solve maths problems. They find that differences in IMO score predict large differences in future research output and future exceptional achievement, even though they’re looking at a group where everyone is very strong to begin with.
They also find that, conditional on the same IMO score, being from a poor country predicts lower research output, presumably because of less access to opportunity and infrastructure. It’s significant: the total long-term research output of the group would be 17% higher if everyone had output at the same level as participants from rich countries. Perhaps mathematics is unusual, but these findings point to the enormous value of removing geography as a barrier to ambition - and seeking out and supporting the “lost geniuses” on whom the world is missing out.