Two researchers out of Union College, Joshua Hart and Christopher Chabris, recently tested one of these theories. The results, summarized by Daisy Grewal in Scientific American, indicate that, wait for it... there is no magic formula for predicting success.
The specific theory Hart and Chabris tested is called the "triple package" theory, and it was developed by Tiger Mom author Amy Chua and her husband, Yale Law professor Jed Rubenfeld. According to Chua and Rubenfeld, a package of three characteristics can predict whether or not members of a cultural group will be successful. The three traits include: "a belief in the superiority of one's own group, a tendency towards feelings of insecurity, and the ability to control one's impulses." In their 2014 book on the topic, Chua and Rubenfeld wrote that cultural groups who valued these characteristics--such as Mormons, Nigerians, Persians, and East Asians, to name a few--"do strikingly better than others in terms of wealth, position and other conventional measures of success."
In an online sample survey, Hart and Chabris asked more than 1,200 U.S. adults to respond to various statements and questions designed to test how much the participants exemplified these three traits. For example, they were asked to say how much they agreed with the statement, "most other cultures are backward compared to my culture," as one of the ways to determine who believed their cultural group was superior to others.
Participants took vocabulary and mathematical reasoning tests, which were meant to measure their cognitive abilities, and listed their parents' highest education level--factors that previously have been identified as strong predictors of success. Indeed, Hart and Chabris often found these two factors in successful individuals, instead of the triple package traits that Chua and Rubenfeld came up with. The relationship between these factors and success is at best correlative and not causal.
It's also worth pointing out that Hart and Chabris defined success by participants' annual income, the highest level of education obtained, and what kinds of honors and awards they had received throughout their lifetime. While many successful leaders do have high salaries and graduate from elite schools, these aren't necessarily always characteristics of high achievers. After all, the most successful kid in the neighborhood may be a college dropout (looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg).
Regardless of how you define success, it's important to understand that researchers are still no closer to identifying its causal factors. "Hart and Chabris point out that, although it seems appealing to think that we can identify a group of learnable traits that determine success, there is scant evidence for such a formula," Grewal writes.