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An Actual 3-Step Guide to Getting Lucky

How much of an entrepreneur’s success is a result of pure luck?

We don’t talk about luck very often, but it’s always there, working in the background. Some people seem to have been born under a lucky star, and others can’t catch a break.

As marketers and entrepreneurs, we do our best, and can only hope that luck will pick up the slack and carry the ball the rest of the way.

All to say that luck is important… isn’t it?

I’ve been wondering about luck lately.

It started when my wife forwarded me a NY Times article called What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

It seems that Jim Collins has got a new book out (who doesn’t?), called Great By Choice, and he’s on the article-writing trail promoting it.

The article was about luck, and Collins’ attempts at quantifying the impact that luck has on business success.

And it got me thinking – about where I am in life, what has gone well, and what hasn’t.

Have I been lucky? Or unlucky? Or both? Or neither?

Maybe My Luck Has Been Good…

You could definitely make the case that I’ve been lucky;

  • I was born into a loving and happy home, and had a great childhood
  • I’ve always had good friends who shared my interests and challenged me to think bigger
  • When I wanted to quit school, my parents were supportive, and let me do it
  • I got to learn and try things as an adolescent that most people don’t experience until their thirties
  • I’ve spent most of my life doing work that I’m good at, and that I love
  • I married a better woman than I ever thought I would find

And the list could go on, and on, and on.

Lucky, right?

Or Maybe It Hasn’t Been So Good…

But then again, maybe my luck hasn’t been so good…

  • Quitting school as a teenager got me labeled as a high-school dropout; this had a huge impact on my mandatory military service, and created identity issues that took me almost a decade to outgrow
  • I’ve always learned on the job, and that can be a painful and expensive proposition – like, for example, when my literacy education start-up disintegrated, and left me with a quarter of a million dollars of debt
  • I’ve created more than my fair share of products, and started more than my fair share of businesses, most of which never got any traction at all
  • Before marrying the woman of my dreams, I spent way too much time in several disastrously unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships

This list could go on and on, too.

So I guess the question is really what makes one lucky, anyway?

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time?

The article explains Collins’ take on it, starting by dissecting the luck of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (actually, I first saw this done by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers).

And yes, you can definitely make the case that Mr. Gates was a lucky guy;

  • He was born into an upper-middle-class American family, and went to private school
  • His school had a Teletype connection that he used to learn to program, which was unusual for the time
  • He was born at the right time, and came of age around the time that PCs were just bound to happen
  • His friend Paul Allen told him about the Altair in 1975, which instigated their first big idea
  • He studied at Harvard, which had the technology that he needed to develop his ideas

So Gates was lucky in the sense of being in the right place at the right time. But is that all that luck really is?

Collins doesn’t think so.

The article concludes that yes, Gates was lucky – but so were a lot of other people who were born around the same time and had a lot of the same advantages.

What made Bill Gates into Bill Gates, Collins argues, is that he was inspired, obsessive, and hard working. He was ready to put everything else aside (including sleeping, eating, and Harvard) to pursue his ideas.

A Fundamental Attribution Error

I’m a big fan of Jim Collins – I learned a lot from both Built to Last and Good to Great, and he’s right up there with Peter Drucker as one of the top business gurus of our time.

But in this case, I think he got it… not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

Because here’s the thing; success requires that you be in the right place at the right time (the Teletype connection at school, exposure to the Altair, etc.), and also that you have the inspiration to work hard when hard work is called for (not sleeping or eating, and dropping out of Harvard).

But to call one “luck” and the other “pluck” (or grit, or perseverance, or whatever) smacks of a psychological phenomenon called the fundamental attribution error.

A fundamental attribution error is what happens when we attribute the same behavior to situational factors for some people, and dispositional factors for others. Here are a couple of examples:

  • I was speeding through traffic because I was in a hurry (situation), but he was speeding through traffic because he’s a selfish jerk (dispositional).
  • He failed the exam because the exam was hard (situation), but I failed the exam because I’m not good at this subject (dispositional).
  • Other succeeded because they were in the right place at the right time (situation), but Bill Gates succeeded because he worked hard (dispositional).

See what I mean?

There’s a problem with that, though, that Collins doesn’t answer (not in the article, at least): what allowed Bill Gates to work so obsessively hard?

We all have our limits; I, for one, don’t function very well without getting enough sleep, and I get very cranky and unproductive when I’m hungry. I have a very short attention span, and I’m a lot less disciplined about doing things I don’t like than most people seem to think.

So… how do we push through it all?

True Luck: Playing to your Strengths and Doing What You Love

The answer is that all bets are off when you’re doing something that you love, and playing to your strengths.

In think that’s what real luck is: doing what you love, and what you’re good at.

In that situation, all bets are off; you can work longer and harder, and not even notice overcome the setbacks, because you’re so involved in, and passionate about, whatever it is that you’re doing.

As Samuel Goldwyn put it, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Well, the more you love what you do, the harder you’re just naturally going to work!

So… how can you maneuver yourself into a position where you can consistently be doing thing that you love, and are good at?

In other words, how do you go about making yourself lucky?

Funny that you should ask… 😉

The Deceptively Simple 3-Step Guide to Getting Lucky

We like to make things practical here at Mirasee. Not necessarily easy, but practical.

In that spirit, here are the three steps that you need to take in order to get consistently lucky (and not notice the times when you aren’t).

They aren’t all easy, but they’re definitely worth the work:

  1. Find what you’re good at. Think about the situations in which you really shone; these are the stories that you tell on a first date, or that your parents tell about you whenever they get a chance. Take an assessment like Strengthsfinder, and keep track of all the things that you do in which you experience flow.
  2. Find what you love. What do you do for fun? What do you like to read about, when you aren’t reading for a specific purpose? What would you spend your days doing if you won the lottery, and didn’t have to work anymore?
  3. Find the intersection. This is the hardest step, but it’s worth the trouble. Find the intersection where your strengths and your passion converge, and you’ll have a winner – this is your “lucky zone”, where anything you do is bound to be favored by lady luck.

It’s really that simple. Not easy, but simple.

Not Easy, But Simple

This isn’t a formula for luck in the sense of rolling nothing but sevens at the craps table.

And it certainly isn’t a formula for luck in the sense of a “magic formula” that will create instant, wonderful results.

Finding your passions, your strengths, and the environments in which you thrive – this can (and maybe even should) be a lifelong pursuit. And that’s fine – you don’t need to find it all today, as long as you start working towards it.

It sort of ties back to the old quip that pessimists are usually right, and optimists are usually successful. Well, be optimistic, and focus on finding your passion and strengths.

It may not be easy, but it is the only formula that I know for Sam Goldwyn’s kind of luck; it will motivate you to work that much harder, and push through the obstacles.

And for an entrepreneur, that’s what really makes you lucky.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in. Do you agree that we create our own luck? What does being lucky mean to you?


(
@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, expert marketer, and the Freddy Krueger of Blogging. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on how to build an engaged audience from scratch.

About Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the CEO and founder of Mirasee, host of the Business Reimagined podcast, and best-selling author of multiple books including Engagement from Scratch!, The Audience Revolution, and Teach and Grow Rich.

25 thoughts on “An Actual 3-Step Guide to Getting Lucky

  1. Danny,

    You are soooooo lucky. Don’t we all say or hear that in regard to different situations or circumstances?

    My Dad used to tell my brother and me that we could be or do any thing we had a mind to be or do because we were born in the USA. What he may have neglected to tell us was that we would have to be willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and stay the course.

    Lucky? I don’t know. Blessed? You bet. I get to do what I want to do and I love it. Oh yeah, I also must do some things I’m not so fond of doing. As my Mom would have said (or asked) “Ain’t life grand?”

    • Yup, we sure do, Yvonne!

      I think your dad was right, but yeah, that’s an important detail to leave out of the picture. I think the extra point is that if you’re doing something you love, even though it’s really hard work, it doesn’t feel that way.

      And I like the way you put it. Lucky? I don’t know. Blessed. Definitely – that’s exactly how I feel.

      Yup, life sure is grand! 😀

  2. Hi Danny, I would have to say yes and no… I think being in the right place at the right time helps but luck will not make you a success. Either we have talent people working under you, you work hard yourself or it’s a combo of both. I think to some extent perhaps luck has a little to do with it. I mean if I got to a baseball game and catch a ball some would say it’s luck, I would say it’s fate seeing I have to work for a living, buy a car, earn money, buy a ticker and get myself to the game. If I didn’t do all that would I have caught the ball?

    • That’s a really good point, Brian – being in the right place at the right time definitely plays into things, but then there’s also all the hard work and effort that goes into getting you into the right place at the right time in the first place.

      I guess I feel that there’s always going to be some randomness; sometimes a flyball is going to happen, and sometimes you’re going to be there – and if it’s not a flyball, it’ll be something else. The great “equalizer” is the hard work and motivation to jump forward and take action.

      That’s just my two cents, of course. 🙂

  3. Danny,

    Love this post!  Sure their is luck in the universe.  Some people are born into better situations than others.  But regardless of where you start out, everyone has gets their fair share of luck. 

    Some people capitalize on their chances .  Others don’t. 

    I know I have had a few things that I lucked into.

    Yet in hind-site also had a couple “million dollar ideas” that I blew.

    Finding that intersection of skill and passion really is the perfect approach to luck.  It is important not to bemoan our bad luck, but to put yourself in that perfect position to capitalize next time fate deals you some great cards.

    • Thanks, Steve!

      And yeah, I’m definitely not saying that some people don’t have an advantaged starting point – but like you said, from there we all get opportunities, which we either seize and make the most of, or let slip away. 🙂

      Have a great weekend, buddy!

  4. Hey Danny, I have come to realise that the harder you work and the more you persist the luckier you are. I have been given many “lucky” breaks but I am also someone who is always looking for opportunities and who has no problem with delivering plenty of sweat equity! I always consider myself lucky, but I also know that much of the luck I have had came from never giving up on my dreams.

    • Welcome to Firepole Marketing, Serena!

      I agree with you – the harder you work, and the more you persist, the luckier you get. I have a feelin that a lot of those “lucky” breaks come as an indirect (or sometimes direct) result of all the harrd work and sweat equity. 🙂

  5. Certainly an interesting subject Danny, and I’m thrilled to here Collins has a new book out, because I think his stuff is awesome.

    As for my take, I don’t believe much in luck at all. This probably comes from my spiritual roots, but I think every decision we make impacts what comes our way. I don’t think Allen and the other legendary lucky guys Gladwell talked about had so much more than so many of their time, he just ran with it. The problem is, we never hear the story of the failures.

    Nice thought provoker Danny,

    Marcus

    • Hey Marcus, yup, I’m a big fan of Collins too, and I’ll probably give his new book a chance – to be fair, I wasn’t impressed with the article, but it’s hard to sum up a 400-page book in a 3-page article without leaving important details out.

      I agree with your perspective, Marcus. We make our own “luck” – by working hard, giving to others, and persevering in the face of adversity. Do that for long enough and you’re bound to get lucky, right? 😉

      You know, Marcus, we’ve never really spoken much about your spiritual roots, but I’d love to know more about where you’re coming from on this – maybe we could jump on the phone sometime this week?

      • This reminds me of Sean Stephenson + Nick Vujicic, both extremely ‘disfigured’ people turned incredibly successful motivational speaker.

        Many would say they were born ‘unlucky’, but instead of succumbing to despair and suicide, they leveraged their situation into their own ‘luck’.

  6. Awesome article, Danny. I whole-heartedly agree. Richard Wiseman is an expert on luck (author of The Luck Factor), he interviewed and studied hundreds of lucky people, and he noticed that every single ‘lucky’ person had some very interesting commonalities.

    Not surprising then that you could illustrate a simple formula for luck, and one I see at use everywhere, celebrities in particular 😀

  7. Danny

    I’m a believer in the school of: the harder you work, the ‘luckier’ you get.  To me it’s simple – if you work hard and produce stuff other people – and sometimes people of great influence – will notice you and maybe reach out a hand to either help you or get YOUR help.  And that lifts you a couple of rungs of the ladder.

    If you DON’T work hard – that connection never happens.

    Does ‘chance’ play a role – occasionally maybe.  But the people who go through life with the right mindset tend to see fortune when it favours them as a natural by product of their hard work, and when fortunes deals them a lousy card they use it as a learning experience and grow from it.

    Look at all the lottery winners who start out poor….and a few years later end up back in the same boat.  They don’t have the right mindset to keep their fortuitous wealth intact.  Whereas in my offline business – the party band business – I’ve worked with plenty of wealthy people.  And some of them have been the hardest people to get an agreement from.  or if they don’t bargain on the price, they want to extract every minute of what they feel they purchased.

    I can’t remember if we’ve had a chat on mythological stories and the hidden power of them – well this is tortoise and the hare territory.  The tortoise ALWAYS wins.  Hard work over time will trump waiting for luck to strike every day of the week.

    Paul

    • Hey Paul, I think what it comes down to is that chance plays a big role if you only spin the wheel of working hard once in a rare while. But if you keep on doing it, then you’re bound to get “lucky” sooner or later, right?

      And no, we haven’t had that conversation, but I’m game – I’d love to hear what you think about it. We should plan to connect on the phone… 🙂

  8. This was an awesome post!  After reading strengthfinders and the other Marcus Buckingham book called “The One Thing You Need to Know” or something like that…I’m realizing (and this article helped) that playing to one’s strengths does make all the difference.

    Why is it so hard to discover them, though?  How did you discover your strengths?  I’ve taken the assessment, but still honing in on it so am just curious.

    • Hi Iyagidad, welcome to Firepole Marketing!

      I think it’s hard to discover our true strengths because our society doesn’t focus on them nearly as much as it should.

      I was very lucky to discover my strengths very early in life, but I’ve always honed that awareness by paying attention to what I really enjoy, and what I’m really good at – our strengths are at the intersection of those two experiences.

      Does that help?

  9. I believe that sometimes you are in the right place at the right time but, if you are not prepared the opportunity will pass you by.

    I know there has been more than one incident that I can look back at today and say, ” If I knew then what I know now,” things could have been different.

    I agree with you in that in order to be lucky there has to be an intersection of what you are good at and what you love. Because, it is at this intersection that you have studied and trained and you are able to see the opportunity where others might not.

    A perfect example is Steve Jobs. He went to the Xerox labs and he saw scientist play with the prototype of a computer mouse. They felt that they had built a fun toy to play with. Steve Jobs had the knowledge and the passion to see the connection between the toy and an instrument that would help revolutionize the world.

    • Absolutely, Scott – as Seneca said, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” 🙂

      We all have tons off those instances – I’ve got more than I can count, and probably many of which would be translatable into hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. But that’s just money, and the learning is priceless. 😉

      And thank you for sharing the Steve Jobs example – it really illustrates the concept that we’re discussing, and it’s a valuable addition to the post!

      Thanks for stopping by, Steve, and have a great weekend!

  10. I was very lucky to discover my strengths very early in life, but I’ve always honed that awareness by paying attention to what I really enjoy, and what I’m really good at – our strengths are at the intersection of those two experiences. As for my take, I don’t believe much in luck at all. I’ve taken the assessment, but still honing in on it so am just curious. Awesome article, Danny.

  11. Your article is about developing skills to survive in crowd of human being (for not to eaten live). Being lucky is to have power to change (normal) reality! We all have some portions of this power, but some have (born with) more. Practicing and acquiring power you increase reality modification options and hence increase your luck -> power to change reality.

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