Whether we like it or not, a good deal of what happens to us in our lives, our careers and our businesses comes down to luck and fortunate timing.
- The chance meeting with someone that led to a job and a career in the hottest growth industry in several decades.
- The shift in the market that takes place just as you get to the top job.
- The luck of the draw in getting into that school or company that makes you “in.”
Yes, luck and timing matter a great deal.
All that being said, it is only the fool that sits back and does nothing hoping against all hope that something lucky happens to them or they win the lottery. As has often been pointed out, the odds are higher that you will be killed in a car accident driving to buy a ticket to that $100M+ Powerball lottery than that you will win the lottery.
To deal with the role of luck in all of our lives, we need to acknowledge the importance of good luck in our success and poor luck in our (or other’s) difficulties, while keeping our eyes open and ourselves prepared to seize the next opportunity that luck brings our way.
As billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson said:
Yes, of course, we are all lucky. If you live in a free society, you are lucky. Luck surrounds us every day; we are constantly having lucky things happen to us, whether we recognize it or not. I have not been any more lucky or unlucky than anyone else. The difference is when luck came my way, I took advantage of it.
Below I give some ideas on how to manage ‘Lady Luck’ in our lives and careers.
Remain Humble: Yes, you are talented and work hard. But, luck played a factor in your success. There were a lot of other people who could have gotten that great job; there were a lot of other companies that could have won that contract. Admitting that luck did help ensures that we remain humble in the wake of our successes.
Empathy: On the flip side, there are plenty of talented, hard-working people that got into a bad situation or dying industry often through no fault of their own. In fact, some of the smartest and most talented businesspeople I ever worked with were managers in mid-level positions in the auto industry. Unfortunately, they worked in a slow-growth business and their brand of cream did not rise to the top. This does not make us ‘better’ than them.
Persistence: Luck changes and situations change. If you feel that you are on the right path then continue to move forward persistently. You will make good things and good luck happen, and (see below) you will be prepared for the next positive change in your circumstances.
Preparation: Work hard, continue learning and be prepared and ready when you find yourself in the right place and at the right time. As Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister during World War II) once said:
To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.
Be Opportunistic: When the right time and right opportunity does come, snatch at the opportunity with speed and hunger. And drive forward. As Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great) writes:
Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? But, just as important, do we have the fanatic, obsessive discipline to keep marching, to push the opportunity to the extreme, to make the most of the chances we’re given?
- Acknowledge the Uncertainty: Life and business are so uncertain and luck and lives can change so quickly that it is important to keep a strong focus on the near and mid-term. This does not mean that you should neglect the long-term. But, it is important to not make an overly detailed plan for the long-term.
How many times have the year five projections in your 5-year strategic plans actually matched the reality?
Yes, it is vital to have a general direction that you are aiming to go over the long term. But, realize the reality that circumstances will change and new opportunities and challenges will arise. So, focus more time and effort on a detailed plan for success in the 1 – 3 year time frame.
In summary, both your actions and luck matter. Or, as Napoleon once said:
I want generals who are really good and really lucky.