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« The upside of your limitations | Main | Beware: Cliches Ahead. »

Planned prosperity Vs lucky breaks

Googling Good Fortune.

In 1999, Sergey Brin and Larry Page took their fledgling product to George Bell, CEO of established search engine, Excite. Wishing to realize the value of their startup, they offered him Google for US$1m. Bell was unexcited, even when they dropped the price to US$750,000.

Both sides made bad decisions: the young entrepreneurs wanted to sell too much too soon; the potential buyer didn’t see the potential. For Brin and Page, it was one of their luckiest setbacks. For Excite, it was a missed opportunity. But that’s only with hindsight. Neither could have forecast the future.

Can you improve your luck?

Not always. Sometimes it’s just the breaks. Take the so-called “January Effect”. Forty percent of Canada’s professional hockey players are born between January and March. Their birth date gives them an edge. Because of hockey season timing, they enter the game bigger and more robust than those born later. They get singled out for better coaching and have more confidence as a result.

The corollary however is that the other 60% of players also succeed even though the odds are against them.

Boosting exposure to good fortune.

Research by Richard Wiseman (author, The Luck Factor) suggests luck can be learned and he lists behaviors that enhance good fortune. They include actively seeking out chance encounters with random people, listening to your intuition and having a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

There’s a lot to be said for Wiseman’s conclusions. Google’s rejection didn’t shut down the founder’s search. They eventually found venture capital funding. Although their equity diluted to about 20% by the time Google went public, they became multi-billionaires the day it did. Is that evidence of serendipity? You could say they were lucky, but they maintained their exposure to random alternatives.

Nor did Decca shut down The Beatles when they withdrew a record contract in 1961, describing them as a “guitar band on their way out”. Shortly after, the guitar band was on its way “in”. Although they would sign with only a minor EMI label, later they would start their own.

The fortune of fantasy.

For a recent example, look no further than the persistent J K Rowling. Twelve editors rejected Harry Potter before it was published by a minor house – at the urging of the CEO’s 8-year-old daughter. Rowling believed in her work. Creating a self-fulfilling prophesy via positive expectations can be powerful.

Resilience to setbacks reflects attitude. Compare two survivors of a car wreck. One might describe it as incredibly bad luck; another will feel lucky to be alive and be overjoyed about it. Studies suggest the latter tend to go on being lucky.

The upside can often be surprising. I suffered some serious losses in the financial crisis, but those tax losses have been extremely handy on the climb out. They allowed me to pursue successful alternative strategies I might not otherwise have considered.

Wiseman’s work suggests that staying open and staying out there get’s you lucky, as in those dinner party stories of “how I randomly met your mother”, although some may not regard that as good fortune.

If pure luck does exist, it may no bad thing. It means that the exceptionally gifted do not have the field to themselves and the rest of us are still in with a chance.

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