How to be luckier


Weekends are usually “catch up on reading and drink a lot of coffee” days around the homestead, and last Sunday was no different. One of the most interesting things I came across was this article out of The Telegraph (UK) entitled “Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn.” In it, researcher Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, shares his findings of ten years of research into the differences between “lucky” and “unlucky” individuals. Based on his research, he feels that lucky individuals “generate good fortune via four basic principles.”

• They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities

• They listen to their intuition

• They create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations

• They adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good

Does this apply to business as well? Could these traits apply to organizations and organizational strategy, in addition to individuals?

The first point above reminds me more than a little bit of the OODA loop (“observe, orient, decide, act”), a concept developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd. In the model of the OODA loop, the organization (or warrior) that can make it through all four steps of the loop faster than its opponent will have an advantage. Agility wins, and the more agile entity is the one that has more control of its own destiny vis-a-vis its competitor.

Notice the first “O” in the OODA loop is “observe.” This feels like it connects directly to the first point of Wiseman’s findings about luck, as both are tied to the concept of awareness.

The faster you can “observe” in the OODA loop, the more dogfights you’ll win. Similarly, the more you can notice opportunities, the more luck will come your way.

Entrepreneur and professor Steve Blank tells a great story in his post “Why startups are agile and opportunistic.” In it, he tells a representative story.

At a board meeting last week I watched as the young startup CEO delivered bad news. “Our current plan isn’t working. We can’t scale the company. Each sale requires us to handhold the customer and takes way too long to close. But I think I know how to fix it.” He took a deep breath, looked around the boardroom table and then proceeded to outline a radical reconfiguration of the product line (repackaging the products rather than reengineering them) and a change in sales strategy, focusing on a different customer segment. Some of the junior investors blew a gasket. “We invested in the plan you sold us on.” A few investors suggested he add new product features, others suggested firing the VP of Sales. I noticed that through all of this, the lead VC just sat back and listened.

Finally, when everyone else had their turn, the grey-haired VC turned to the founder and said, “If you do what we tell you to do and fail, we’ll fire you. And if you do what you think is right and you fail, we may also fire you. But at least you’d be executing your plan not ours. Go with your gut and do what you think the market is telling you. That’s why we invested in you.” He turned to the other VC’s and added, “That’s why we write the checks and entrepreneurs run the company.”

Photo sharing site Flickr is a great example of a company that made its own luck early in its days. Out of the gate, Flickr wasn’t a photo sharing site. Flickr actually started out as a mutliplayer game called “Game Neverending,” a web-based, massively multiplayer game. However, the observation that the most engaging part of the game was actually the photo sharing component resulted in refocusing the 11-person team from game development to create the photo sharing pioneer that was later sold to Yahoo! It’s an ideal story that people on retire at 21 would love to see when people are selling their businesses, as it is something of a win-win scenario.

The Flickr story certainly seems to hit all four points of Wiseman’s definition of “lucky,” does it not? The founders were observant enough to notice the opportunity (check). They listened to their intuition (check). They had positive expectations (check). They had a resilient attitude – “we can do this!” and not “our game doesn’t work” (check).

So. Are you going to get lucky this week?