What's Luck Got to Do with It?
By | Oct 13, 2015
Earlier this year, I heard Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, Built to Last, and many other popular business books speak at a conference on leadership. I consider Collins one of the best minds in business and leadership. This was my third time hearing him speak, and like each time before, I left feeling that I had learned something important.
Collins spoke about his latest book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. And what he had to say about luck really struck me. While he was
comparing 10K'er companies (great companies) to their less successful counterparts, the concept of luck struck me in a personal way. In my book about the impostor syndrome, The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success, and in the speeches I have given since its publication, I often talk about folks, like me who contribute their success to everything but their own abilities or the hard work and often to luck. After hearing Jim Collins, I realized I was giving luck a bad name.
In his talk, Collins mentioned that the best companies compared to their competitors didn't have more good luck than bad luck. The difference was the Return on Luck (ROL) they achieved.
That idea really made me think about my life from a different perspective; and I could immediately point to times when not only was good luck on my side but I also maximized my ROL. For example, graduating college at a point when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing had opened doors I never knew existed. This was not just a lucky event for me and others who went on to levels of success that our early lives would never have suggested. Luck was on my side but I now acknowledge that I made the most of it by moving away from what was expected, which for me was to be a teacher, and going to Columbia Business School, which lead me to a highly successful business career.
In his book, Jim Collins makes this point about luck and return on luck: "We see people like (Bill) Gates who recognize luck and seize it, leaders who grab luck events and make more of them than others do. They zoom out to recognize when a luck event has happened and to consider whether they should let it disrupt their plans." He goes on to say, “managing luck involves four things: (1) cultivating the ability to zoom out to recognize luck when it happens, (2) developing the wisdom to see when, and when not, to let luck disrupt your plans, (3) being sufficiently well-prepared to endure an inevitable spate of bad luck, and (4) creating a positive return on luck— both good luck and bad—when it comes. Luck is not a strategy, but getting a positive return on luck is."
So I have to apologize for giving luck a bad rap and admonishing people for contributing their success to "luck." I still hold to my assertion that you make your success and deserve to
celebrate it. Now I add, however, that luck may have provided the opportunity but what made the difference was the ROL that you create.
So let's recognize that luck—either good or bad—often plays a role in our lives. What makes for success or failure is our Return on Luck.