Are you at the mercy of the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ or can you make your own luck? Compare yourself (and your organisation) against the four principles resting at the heart of being lucky:
Noticing opportunities: Luck can come from spotting opportunities earlier than others, giving you a head start in exploiting them. But there’s nothing lucky about this.
Colonel ’40 second’ Boyd was a fighter pilot trainer in the US air force. He earned his nickname by being able to turn any position of tactical weakness in a (one on one) dog fight into a position of dominance within a minute. He developed a model to explain his approach - the OODA Loop - with the first O standing for observation - for without picking up the signals around us we can’t hope to act earlier than rivals and get ahead.
Our own research suggests that the amount of organisations operating as ‘closed’ systems today - recycling existing information rather than refreshing it - is staggering. Firms may consider themselves as getting an ‘unlucky’ break when they’re disrupted but it’s not down to luck (or strategy) at all but wilful blindness.
Trust intuition: Sometimes you spot things you haven’t spotted before. You want to explore further but have to build a business case first to get support, authorisation or buy in. Yet if it’s genuinely new there won’t be any way you can prove its worth compared to the way the rest of the business proves its worth. So your uncertain idea for the business of tomorrow gets bumped in favour of the certain of the business of today. You’re then comforted by talk suggesting that ‘if the opportunity is that good why has no-one else already done it’?
So you’ve junked your idea and left it for someone else to follow up on and get ‘lucky’. It’s a common error of experts especially. Instead of wandering off in potential directions of discovery they stick to entrained patterns - the very patterns that have made them experts in a particular field in the first place. Research suggests experts are more likely to be closed minded and this can create obstacles to progress.
Remain positive: You may be an expert in a particular field but what happens if the fields themselves are changing?
One of the dominant ideas of ecology and economics that’s currently being challenged is the idea of equilibrium. Far from nature and systems being in a balanced state we find nature (and human beings are part of that) is in a state constant flux or constant evolution - and the way you choose to describe it reveals your state of positiveness.
For those who fear the chaos of a random world the idea of a natural equilibrium is comforting - if you can just get rid of all the variations that prevent equilibrium from being found. You’ll find these people throughout an organisation, desperately trying to get alignment and consensus - for without it they fear the gates of chaos opening.
For those who see the world as continually evolving then change is a harbinger of development. Admittedly that development may be circular in nature (witness the return of a 1980s type cold war) but it can also spiral up into new areas of opportunity (the technology revolution for example).
Those who can accept the fundamental nature of constant change and ambiguity have a greater chance of remaining positive about it, intrigued instead by the emergence of potential new opportunities. Positivity helps us remain alert to what could be rather than collapsing into mourning for what should be.
Be resilient: Resilience has become a bit of a buzzword (i.e. something lots of people use but very few agree on what it means). But it’s an important concept. Rather than being robust (resistant to stress or change) we want to be able to recover from it without sacrificing our identity and learn from it (resilience). So how do we do this?
Embracing serendipity - happy accidents - is a way of extracting maximum benefit from situations with minimal stress. Rather than trying to control all outcomes (though by all means try to control a few) remain aware of those that are emerging anyway. Rather than being married to certain outcomes and closing yourself off to others (as they don’t ‘fit’ with your expectations so you’re more likely not to see them and even more likely to ignore them even if you do) remain alert (you’ll see this now starts to loop back on itself now - noticing opportunities).
For 50% of patents have resulted from a serendipitous process (appearing while working on an unrelated project) and are lubricated by the social interaction - humans connecting with humans to discover something neither new alone - seeing patterns others don’t.
But how to take advantage of that is a post for another day … but if you want more reading on how to make your own luck, serendipitously, here’s an excellent article on it.