What's Luck Got to Do With It?
We consider many of our unique attributes when we want to explain why it all worked out in the end. When things don't go so well we're also quick to point to several outside factors. The truth is, much of what we accomplish successfully is also because we got lucky.
Well … Everything!
We like to think it was our skills, talents, and experience that made the difference. It was the years we toiled away, refining our abilities, improving our judgement. We think our intuition is great, and our penchant for hard work is unmatched. Our success was a result of our training and the many trials by fire we've had to navigate. We've honed our craft and we are well prepared to tackle this latest obstacle. We pat ourselves on the back and say "job well done". We consider many of our unique attributes when we want to explain why it all worked out in the end.
When things don't go so well we're also quick to point to several reasons. It might be that the other team missed something, or this was the first time any one in the universe saw this problem, so what could be expected? We warned about just this type of outcome, remember? We thought it was a long shot and it was too difficult. Those guys didn't work as hard as we did and it took us all down.
Except that's not really the whole truth, is it?
We rarely say we succeeded because we're lucky. We don't like to acknowledge we failed because we underprepared, lacked the skills, or made too many errors. It's easier to claim you are unlucky when things don't go so well, and laud our abilities when they do.
The truth is, much of what we accomplish successfully is also because we got lucky. Phil Knight, the founder and former CEO of Nike, writes in his memoir Shoe Dog: "I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome." Throughout his book, you'll shake your head in amazement at the missteps Phil made building Nike, it was ultimately luck that tipped the scale in his favor.
Phil's not alone. Daniel Kahneman defines two great formulas for success in his supreme book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by stating:
Success = talent + luck
Great Success = a little more talent + a lot of luck
Robert Frank, an economics professor at Cornell, refers to research conducted by the University of California at Davis that shows "that recognizing our luck increases our good fortune". We get luckier when we acknowledge luck's part in our successes.
So keep up the good work. Train, learn, and engage in deliberate practice - these things help improve your chances that luck falls in your favor. And the next time you get a pat on the back, it's beneficial for you to nod and say "Thanks, I'm glad we got lucky too."
Postscript: The title of this article is a nod to Tina Turner's only number 1 hit, "What's Love Got to Do With It", released in 1984. Turner was 44, which made her, at that time, the oldest female solo artist to have a number 1 hit in the US. Cher currently holds claim to this mark, in 1999 at age 52 her single "Believe" hit number 1. It also ushered in a new technology called Auto-Tune.