Wednesday, October 02, 2013

How to Get Lucky

Luck has a lot to do with success.  That is both my experience and the conclusion of a lot of research, including by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize, who famously said:
Success = Talent + Luck. 
Great Success = A little more Talent plus a lot more Luck.
Many successful people find this assertion annoying, since they feel that they have worked very hard to succeed.  As noted in my previous post, these people suffer from survivorship bias: they fail to notice all the other people in the world who worked equally hard but failed to succeed.  (Warren Buffet is a noted exception; he has repeatedly noted that he was in the right place at the right time.)

But the good news for those less enlightened (and lucky) than Warren Buffet is that luck can be cultivated - it's not merely a matter of chance.  Psychologist Richard Wiseman argues that luck is the outcome of human interaction with chance:
Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. 
This at least leaves open the possibility that we can make ourselves luckier by changing our outlooks:
Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.
So luck is part persistence, but the speed at which we experiment is also key:
The people who labeled themselves as generally unlucky took about two minutes to complete the task. The people who considered themselves as generally lucky took an average of a few seconds. Wiseman had placed a block of text printed in giant, bold letters on the second page of the newspaper that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Deeper inside, he placed a second block of text just as big that read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” The people who believed they were unlucky usually missed both. 
And finally, part of the challenge is a willingness to abandon hypotheses and assumptions when they don't pan out:
What you can’t see, and what they can’t see, is that the successful tend to make it more probable that unlikely events will happen to them while trying to steer themselves into the positive side of randomness. They stick with it, remaining open to better opportunities that may require abandoning their current paths, and that’s something you can start doing right now without reading a single self-help proverb, maxim, or aphorism. 
[The quoted passages are from David McRaney.]

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3 comments:

Guy said...

I agree, Dennis, but don't forget hard work. Without sweat, neither luck nor talent can do the trick. As Mari put it so aptly, it takes "mindless persistence". Guy

Jaleel Hamid Entrepreneur said...

Great article.
I'm surprised not to have run in to these studies before. But fascinated not the less.

Thanks

Douglas Clark said...

Dennis,

Gary Player, the Hall of Fame golfer, noted that the more he practicted hitting from the bunkers, the luckier he was during tournaments.

Doug Clark, USAID/Philippines 1982-1986