I’m not a big believer in luck. And I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that as a kid I never won a bunch of stuff at fairs or had my name pulled out of the hat and declared the “winner” by my grade school teacher. I’m more of a believer in hard work, exasperation, feeling like quitting, and eventually pulling myself up by my bootstraps and working hard again. But even with this ‘nose-to-the-grindstone” attitude, I’ll admit to being fascinated by luck and people who consider themselves lucky. Am I a non-believer because I have sour grapes? Maybe, but I like to assess the luck of others and pick it apart to discern if skill – or lack thereof – was actually the cause of lucky and unlucky events.
There have been some interesting studies done on businesses that were struck by luck – both good and bad. Recently, Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great, looked at luck from an empirical viewpoint. He defined a luck-related business event as meeting three criteria:
1. A significant aspect of the event occurs independent of the business’s actions and motives or its employees’ actions and motives.
2. The event has significant consequences (good or bad).
3. The event has an element of unpredictability.
In a nutshell, Collins and his colleagues wanted to know more about how luck impacted hugely successful businesses. Over a nine-year period, they looked at businesses that were wildly successful. They called these businesses 10X companies because they were not just twice as good as average, but 10 times more successful than their competition. And what did they find? The study reported that the 10X cases weren’t generally “luckier” than the comparison cases but that luck does impact all businesses. Hmm.
In Collins’ October, 2011 NYTimes.com, article he clarifies this finding by explaining how luck impacted Bill Gates in some ways (he was a computer genius at one of the few colleges that had computers in 1975 and knew how to program Basic) but that a least a thousand individuals had these same skills and opportunities. He says that, “Mr. Gates went further, taking a confluence of lucky circumstances and creating a huge return on this luck. And that is the important difference. Luck, good and bad, happens to everyone, whether we like it or not. But when we look at the 10Xers, we see people like Mr. Gates who recognize luck and seize it, leaders who grab luck events and make much more out of them.”
And this is good advice for me and maybe for you. I shouldn’t turn my nose up at the idea of luck impacting me since I’m as likely as anyone else to see good and bad luck. Research shows that it’s what I do with these lucky moments that counts most in the long run. Recognizing good luck when I see it and harnessing my work ethic at this critical time will ensure that I stretch my luck as far as it can go. Similarly, it is equally important to hunker down when bad luck events occur to minimize the possible ramifications.
Best of luck in your future endeavors! Collins recognizes that while bad luck can wipe a business out, good luck rarely makes a business immune from catastrophe. So, seize the day and the luck you’ve been given. As Collins says, “Luck favors the persistent, but you can only persist if you survive.”