You make your own luck. Have you ever been given that advice — while in the same breath it’s applied to some titan of industry who came from nothing to rule the business world?
Let’s take a look at that idea.
“If Bezos and his team had waited a few weeks longer to raise those extra funds, people today would lump Amazon in with other dot-com-era failures like Webvan, Kozmo, and Pets.com — big-spending companies with unworkable business models that collapsed under their own weight.”
(Vox: The little-known deal that saved Amazon from the dot-com crash)
Amazon raised a large amount of money a few weeks before the 2000 meltdown. Just through blind luck. If they had tried that just a couple of weeks later, there’d be no Amazon. No prime, no two-day delivery, can you imagine?
In the provocatively named article “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” it turns out that luck rather than talent and design play a much larger role in people’s fortune than anyone would like to believe.
“That may not be surprising or unfair if the wealthiest 20 percent turn out to be the most talented. But that isn’t what happens. The wealthiest individuals are typically not the most talented or anywhere near it. ‘The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa,’ say the researchers… So if not talent, what other factor causes this skewed wealth distribution? ‘Our simulation clearly shows that such a factor is just pure luck,’ say Pluchino and co.”
Luck plays a clear role in my own life. My parents decided to leave Kenya when I was a kid because the health system was terrible. An incident where my brother almost lost his life in a botched hospital treatment was the last straw. It was luck that they happened to have British passports (as citizens of Kenya, a former British colony).
Without that piece of luck, I would not be where I am today. I have worked hard, no doubt, but without that lucky break, my life would be very different.
It seems to me that lucky people should be a little more humble about their privilege. While you may have taken advantage of your luck, the seed of your success was often pure chance according to researcher Alessandro Pluchino.
In the current climate of racial injustice and COVID, this may be the first time that many people are thinking about this issue and realizing that instead of their talent being the reason why they are where they are, it is in fact their luck. Being born in the right country, at the right time, to the right parents.
Maybe lucky people like me should think about giving back more than money. How about giving away some of your luck as well?
If you think you are lucky enough to be in this position, how about:
Connect with 10 people you know and share your connections to give them some luck.
Write some testimonials on LinkedIn or reference letters for people who are looking for work right now.
Give a talk (on zoom) at a college about your experience and the things you did that helped you succeed.
Luck is being in the right place at the right time. Being lucky you gain experience that is impossible to gain in any other way. Hard work is valuable and having a growth mindset is a huge asset, but even with that, there are certain things out of your control that you can not change and that only luck can account for. So share that experience and let people who have not had that luck benefit from your good fortune.
MIT Technology Review
If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance.
The little-known deal that saved Amazon from the dot-com crash