In the popular podcast How I Built This, near the end of every interview, host Guy Raz poses a profound question. He asks this question nearly the same way, practically word for word, each and every time.
The question is this:
How much of your success do you attribute to your skill, intelligence, and hard work; and how much of it is luck?
My ears perk up every time. Surely it’s skill, intelligence, and hard work that made the difference; those are foundational attributes for all who succeed.
Yet time and again, the interviewee attributes a good portion, if not all their success to luck.
Pure, dumb, stumbled into it, luck.
Can that really be the case? Are all these entrepreneurs just plain lucky?
As Shakespeare once said, “luck by any other name would smell so sweet?”. Or was it love? Okay, it’s neither luck nor love, but “A rose by any other name...”
Anyway, are you ready to get lucky?
Success by chance rather than action
That’s pretty much the textbook definition of luck; success by chance rather than action. But in nearly every case it was the action taken when presented with opportunity (or luck) that made the difference.
In replaying a previous episode, Remembering Tony Hsieh of Zappos, (who passed away recently) Tony made the perfect reference and analogy when asked the famous question.
Per usual, Tony attributed his success to luck, but provided additional insight. Citing Jim Collins who developed the concept, Return on Luck; Tony had this to say,
In his research, Jim Collins found all companies have lucky and unlucky events. When it happened to good companies, they would double down on that lucky event and get the most out of it allowing them to better handle the unlucky ones. The same amount of good luck and bad luck happen to all companies and all people.
In a lecture, Jim Collins talks about those who grab luck and get a high return on it. When you compound this over time it produces a big difference.
An example he cites is Johnson and Johnson’s response to massive bad luck event known as, The Chicago Tylenol Murders.
In 1982, around the Chicago metro area, it was discovered Tylenol capsules were tampered with, and laced with cyanide. Something like this could not only destroy a brand, but an entire company.
CEO Jim Burke quickly went to work, pulling millions of bottles off shelves and replacing them with pioneering tamper-resistant packaging. With an emphasis on health and safety, Burke took the time to handle the crisis properly, keeping the media and public well informed, improving brand awareness, and loyalty in the process.
Luck in retrospect
Goggle founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, once offered their company to Yahoo in 1998 for the bargain basement price of $1 Million. Yahoo turned them down. And we all know the rest.
Would you describe that as a lucky or an unlucky event?
At the time, Yahoo’s decision likely stung Brin and Page. Now that Google is worth $632 Billion, I’m sure they view that event a little differently.
How fortunate were they Yahoo declined their offer? But it wasn’t simply the rejection. It was the drive and innovation to improve and grow Google that made such an event remarkable.
This is in no way unique to Google. Our business landscape is littered with founders and companies who were turned down for accusations, or rejected altogether.
You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.
―Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men
Luck is a product of action
Kenneth Cole, the American designer had a great take on luck courtesy of his father; the harder you work the luckier you get, his dad once told him.
This approach to luck is common among a host of success stories.
Here’s Ray Kroc of McDonalds fame;
Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.
Or Oprah Winfrey;
Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.
And General Douglas Macarthur;
The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.
Wait, wasn’t this article about love? I mean, it’s in the title, isn’t it?
Yes, I know, let’s bring it all together.
Lucky in love
You and I are both here because we love writing. It’s truly a magical, expressive, art form. Let’s use “going viral” as our example to illustrate luck.
Are viral stories typically a product of luck, or something else altogether? When was the last time you read a poorly written, nonsensical article that was widely loved and shared? Don’t answer that, I’m sure they’re out there.
But they’re the exception.
More likely however, viral articles are the product of good writing, relevant and engaging topics, which provide value for the reader.
They’re the result of someone, who’s worked hard and honed their craft; repeating the process, producing enough content, to where one such piece resonates with an overwhelming amount of people.
Maybe one of your articles will do just that. If not, well, better luck next time.