Jun 25, 2013

Why do people ask: "how do you create your own luck?"?

Big Name Entrepreneurs

I was listening to Michael Wood, Aaron Levie, and Naval Ravikant tonight. They were on a Wall Street Journal panel talking on the topic: "How I Built It."  Michael is an avuncular, older entrepreneur who was a law firm partner by the time he started building LeapFrog. Aaron, by contrast is a youthful sage. At 28, he's now heading a 850 person organization called Box.  It was apparent that regardless of age, all three were very well-informed about the world, very self-aware, and very excited about what they do.  Another way to say that self-awareness and leadership is age independent.

The real deal - whiz kid

How to Create Your Own Luck

Even in the heart of startup land, people ask (what seems to me) naive questions like "How do you create your own luck?" This is a question you often hear around the startup circles.  I suspect that people have this question for various reasons, and these come to mind:

  • Misunderstanding - People misunderstand the modest statement behind success: "I was lucky"
  • Efficiency - People often find the easy way out desirable (versus relentless hard work)
  • Pattern mind - The patterns behind success stories are difficult to fathom (if there are patterns at all)
  • Role model - People genuinely want/need an inspirational story from a role model of overcoming the odds
  • Safety net - Luck serves as a mental safety net. If luck is the driver behind success, then failure is not my fault.
  • Immaturity - People just don't know better questions yet.
Some Answers

Anyway, the answer to the question generally tends to be an arithmetic one.  In Aaron's case, the story is told how he got Mark Cuban (the Shark) to invest.  The luck was created because the team hustled like nobody's business, talking to hundreds of investors.  This is a common pattern to those who successfully create traction to move forward.

Michael agreed. There are really two things: 1) Persistence and 2) Expertise.  One, you have to persist, because if you exit, then the game is over.  If you stick around and keep playing, you at least have the chance to get lucky (it is tempting to give up - I reflected on Churchill's dictum never give in in this post about persisting).  Two, it helps to know everything about the field you're in, because it helps you capitalize on the opportunity when you see it.  I think this instance of seizing the opportunity is what strikes many as luck, but it really isn't.  It is the narrative of overnight success that took 10 years to make.

And I might add, if you really want to get lucky, it really helps if you are novel.  If you know a lot about disrupting education, but so does everyone else, then it's harder to get lucky.  This is why you don't see many new startups selling insurance policies. Or why it would be hard to succeed in fields like healthcare or education: virtually everyone agrees that these industries are broken.

All of that said, don't forget to celebrate the journey - often it's not about the goal. And, when you feel like you need to get lucky, remember that it might be time to step forward, and not back.

And the journey starts with finding personal happiness and your place in the world.  If you are looking for practical tips, I wrote a post about my book on happiness.  You can find the book on Amazon - How To Be Happy: 12 Powerful Steps.