Thursday, March 7, 2013

Do You Feel Lucky?

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find that the harder I work the more luck I have." Thomas Jefferson.

I don't believe in luck. Well, let me amend that. I didn't believe in luck. The reason was that I wanted to believe I was in control of my present circumstances and my future success. I felt that everything that happened to me was part of my own work and preparedness. Of course, we've all heard the aphorism "luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation." I was so immersed in this thinking that I stopped wishing people "good luck" and instead I wished them "continued success." Recently I read Great by Choice by Jim Collins where he dismisses the concept of luck being a factor in organizational success. For Collins, success is all about how organizations plan and execute on their plan.

Yet empirical evidence pulled at me. Good and bad things happen to people when other things could or should have. That is really the definition of luck; good or bad. Reading about successful people often reveals they are in the right place, at the right time. Or they happen to meet just the right person to pursue their goal. Or they accidentally discover something while working on a different project. Or they just miss the storm that capsizes everyone else while they sail on to victory. It was a factor out of their control, but they just happened to utilize it. History is filled with great individuals who were "lucky." But is that all there is to it?

 Recently Dr. Adam Grant from Wharton interviewed Michael Mauboussin about his new book, The Success Equation. Mauboussin spoke about luck being the stuff that happens around you (good and bad) over which you have no control. But what he also discovered from studying successful people is that more things go their way (luck) than individuals who are not as skilled or persistent. In other words, Thomas Jefferson could be right that the harder you work the more luck you will have.

Examining my own life I can honestly say that I've been lucky. I've met the "right" people, had the "right" interviews, pitched the "right" solution and often at just the "right" time. But usually it happened when I worked hard at success. What about you? How much has luck played a part in your life and your success? For me, I still want to do more research, but what I'm beginning to understand, as I examine my own life, is that even though I did not believe in luck, apparently luck believed in me.

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