What is the Surface Area of Luck?

A commitment you can take today to be a magnet for success

Shao Zhou
Age of Awareness
4 min readSep 17, 2020

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New York City Where Dreams Come True, Photo by Shao Zhou

What are the ingredients to success? We are often reminded when speaking with and studying the people we admire that success is not a straight path but a squiggly line. Rarely does a person reach their goals by relying on brute force of hard work alone.

In The Third Door, written by Alex Banayan, the author spent his millennial life crisis on an extraordinary 7 year quest interviewing the world’s most successful people from Tim Ferriss, Bill Gates, Larry King,… on how they “made it”. He coined a brilliant analogy:

Success is like trying to enter an exclusive nightclub.

There is the front door for the 99% of people waiting in line, doing what everyone else is, and hoping to eventually get in.

There is the VIP door for the 1% in the privileged and connected who can effortlessly slip through.

What they don’t tell you is that there is always a third door. This is through a back alley kitchen or a cracked window that will take resourcefulness to discover and guts to pound on 100x.

Lesson: there are always exceptions. Banayan was on a lackluster path to becoming a doctor and used a third door by hacking his way as a contestant on the gameshow The Price is Right where he won a sailboat. He then sold it to fund a wild journey to acquire a book deal to inspire us all with his message.

I think of success as a combination of what is replicable and what is not easily replicable. We can follow Alex Banayan’s The Third Door mindset, Sheryl Sandberg’s will to Lean In, or Elon Musk’s time blocking by learning and applying their methods into our own lives. Ingredients include hard work, education, discipline, perseverance, grit, hustle and heart.

The other half of the success equation are unfair advantages. Some people have unique qualities that are not possible to copy, such as having genetics of Olympic athletes or being born to millionaire parents. Some encounter unique circumstances at the right place and the right time, which can potentially be reproducible by chance, such as being an early investor in a nascent technology that grows wildly popular. Once obscure, Google, TiVo and Roomba are now household names. Or perhaps you meet someone that invests in you and jump starts your career.

Warren Buffet has long been a proponent on the role of luck in success. At Berkshire Hathaway’s Annual Shareholders Meeting in 1997¹, he proposed many of the advantages you get in life depends on the system you’re born into.

“You don’t know whether you’re going to be born rich or poor, male or female, infirm or able-bodied, in the United States or Afghanistan. All you know is that you get to take one ball out of a barrel with 5.8 billion balls in it. And that’s you…

You’re going to participate in what I call the Ovarian Lottery. And that is the most important thing that’s ever going to happen to you in your life. It’s going to determine way more than what school you go to, how hard you work, all kinds of things.”

Buffet was born in 1930 when the odds were against him 40–1 to be born in the United States as opposed to somewhere else. He was a male and designed for the American system that rewarded free market capitalism. In a Forbes 400 Summit, he mentions Bill Gates said about him²,

“If I’d been born a few thousand years ago, I’d have been some animal’s lunch.”

What if I told you we can increase our chances to get lucky? According to entrepreneur Jason Roberts, this is absolutely possible. He introduced the concept of the “Luck Surface Area”, which gives you direct control over the amount of serendipity that occur in your life.

Luck Surface Area is the amount of action you take around your passion combined with the number of people you communicate your passion to.

The equation is L = D x T, where L is luck, D is doing and T is telling. Below is a graphical representation.

Luck Surface Area by Jason Roberts

The more you pour your energy into your passion, the more you become an expert at something. The more people you tell about your passion, the more you can increase the odds luck will find you. Some percentage of the people you tell will capture value from your expertise, often in a way you would never have predicted, that makes you even more magnified.

This makes sense in the context of why many businesses experience exponential growth curves. Being bigger gives proportionally more opportunities to get even bigger. Additionally, in James Clear’s Atomic Habits, the author offers the idea that habits are the exponential growth of self improvement. Get 1% better every day for 1 year and you’ll end up 37 times better once you’re done.

I leave you with this call to action. If you want to move the needle to increase your luck in success, do good work and tell your story on a regular basis.

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Shao Zhou
Age of Awareness

California-grown New Yorker. Product Manager. Learning to live Happier, Healthier & More Productive Lives.