Maximizing Your Return On Luck
Maximizing Your Return On Luck
December 9, 2013
Winston Wayne Wilson
Best-selling author Jim Collins contends that luck plays a critical role in success and that we can in fact increase our “return on luck”. One key assumption Jim makes is that, while many of us are subjected to the same conditions (good or bad), it is those of us who are able to decipher and exploit “lucky moments” who will ultimately achieve success. Here are my thoughts on a few things to consider in maximizing your return on luck:
- Leverage your network. Your odds for success are contingent on your network. Hence, the greater and more diversified your network, the greater your odds for achieving success. If you are not on LinkedIn or social media; you don’t attend conferences; you are not part of a professional organization; you are not on a board; and you are not involved in community activities or engaged in any social, cultural or religious events, then you are reducing your chances of running into someone who can give you a lucky break. I was at a conference a few days ago and I overheard a middle-aged gentleman telling another attendee about how he had lost his job and was essentially shut out of the workforce. He described how tough it was at his age to get back into the workforce, even with significant experience. He tried to do a few entrepreneurial things on his own but the opportunities dried up. In the end, it was a chance encounter with a longtime friend that he leveraged and turned into an opportunity to get back into the workplace. He exclaimed how lucky he felt to have a buddy he could leverage to get what he referred to as one of the most stable jobs he has ever had. He could have just exchanged pleasantries with his friend and, out of shame, hide the fact that he was unemployed and desperately seeking a job to help his family. Because he recognized the chance encounter as a “lucky moment” he was able to capitalize on it and achieve success in a lackluster economy. If you want to maximize your return on luck you have to start leveraging the people in your network.
- Be open-minded. One of the challenges in maximizing your return on luck is being aware of what a “lucky moment” looks and feels like. We tend to think of a lucky moment as a bells and whistle, confetti raining, lottery winning moment. This is typically not the case. As such, we have to be open-minded about what luck looks like. I have come across a number of successful people who attribute their success to turning a crisis, conflict or disappointing experience into a positive, profitable one. I was at a social-media conference recently and the presenter told a story about a vendor in Louisiana who makes most of her sales selling Jazz related nick-nacks at an annual jazz festival. One year, on the day of the event, it rained the whole day, which adversely impacted the attendance level. Rather than being disappointed, she sent out emails and used social media to let people know that she had raincoats, boots and umbrellas for sale. She sold out her entire inventory. Now, these were not the items she had planned on selling; however, she saw a lucky moment in what other vendors might have seen as a disappointment and was able to make record sales. Other successful people attribute their lucky breaks to serendipity, particularly as it relates to taking on undesirable assignments and then stumbling into a life-changing opportunity. The trajectory of my own career quickly shifted northward because I said “yes” to doing a training that no one else really wanted to do. It was my success in that training that gave me the recognition and confidence to take my career to the next level. I always felt that I would rise to the top solely on the premise of excelling at what I went to college to do. I was wrong. You cannot be too regimented about the activities that are compatible with your career aspirations. Uncorrelated work and community initiatives can give you access to new people who might inspire you or even become advocates for your career. Therefore, be careful about saying “no” to something because you don’t think it will help your career. You might just be passing up the luckiest moment of your life.
- Work hard. There is a saying that, “The harder you work the luckier you get.” There is truth to this statement. Malcolm Gladwell alludes to the correlation between hard work and luck in his book, “Outliers” where he describes the “10,000-Hour Rule” for success. The 10,000-Hour Rule essentially echoes the related expression that says, “Overnight success is ten to fifteen years.” Many successful people consistently ascribe much of their success to their long-term, heavy investment of passion, energy and time into their work. They also describe how once their investment peaks, there is a feeling of luck because success becomes more understood and more easily navigated. This makes sense because success breeds success. If you are already successful then more people will want to do business with you. Even a bank will lend you money when you already have money. After a while, with so much success in your life, it will appear as if you are simply lucky. Nevertheless, it is your consistent hard work that is driving the seemingly fortuitous occurrences of success in your life. If you think your odds of success are low right now, then find something that you are passionate about and that you believe you can invest 10,000 hours of energy and time into. That committed journey will increase your odds of winning.
- Be aware and connected. Sometimes people say that they are not successful because they did not get the right opportunity. Maybe so. That said, I believe that opportunity knocks on your door far more often than you think. The problem is that you were not aware that opportunity was knocking on your door because you were sleeping, playing your music on full blast, talking on the phone, or just daydreaming. In other words you were not aware and connected to your environment. As a young man, I would doze off quite a bit at church. One day a woman quoted Proverbs 20:13 to me: “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.” In others words, poverty does not mean that you are unlucky. It means that you might be asleep, which renders you unaware and disconnected. In my young mind I started to associate slumber with poverty so I became an early riser and tried to be awake as much as possible so that I did not miss out on the “bread” of success. Being aware and connected requires that you always keep your eyes and ears open. With the lottery, “You have to be in it to win it.” The same is true with success in life. If you are going to be a lucky winner of anything in life (great career, lasting relationship, enjoyable lifestyle, good health or self-actualization), you have to be aware and connected. Awareness helps you to identify the steps that are critical to your success. Being connected allows you to execute those critical things by leveraging the right people. In essence, when you are aware and connected to your environment your luck will increase because you will find yourself at the right place at the right time more often. In those lucky moments the goal is to capitalize on all the opportunities to advance your success agenda.
In summary, remember that you are your network. Whenever you are feeling unlucky, you should start building your network because making the right connections increases your odds for success. Also, be open minded. Don’t be tunneled vision about what luck looks like. Always be aware and connected to your environment and don’t forget that the harder you work the luckier you get. Best of luck!