THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT SUCCESS: IT HAS MORE TO DO WITH LUCK THAN YOU’RE WILLING TO ADMIT
Hard work doesn’t always mean success. And that’s the truth. Success is not always solely the result of hard work. Robert Frank’s recent studies have indicated that most successful people attribute their success to luck – pure dumb, uncontrollable, unaccountable, unpredictable, serendipitous luck. Frank remarks that “even when luck counts for only a trivial part of overall performance, there’s rarely a winner who wasn’t also very lucky.” So whether you’re willing to admit it or not, luck does have a lot to do with what kind as well as how much success you have now and in the future.
1. Amazon. Business is all about timing. No one tells you this, but even if you have the best idea in the world – if your timing is off and you can’t weather the storm, then it’s all for nothing. When Jeff Bezos built Amazon, he went on for an entire decade posting negative numbers, quarter after quarter. He launched Amazon with a few books, and only some could’ve predicted its current dominating position (including himself perhaps). Some will argue that Bezos’ timing was essential to his success, as he was one of the first people in eCommerce and, therefore, was able to command this space. But the truth is that he lucked out. People embraced the idea of putting their credit card numbers into a screen and only having to wait 4-10 days to get their products. As a result, other technologies had pacified the masses into giving Bezos and Amazon a level of trust. Had he started a few years prior, he may have been too early to realize any success.
2. Under Armour. In addition to timing, business is all about product placement. Oliver Stone should be named an honorary co-founder of Under Armour for featuring their products in his movie, Any Given Sunday. Because of this exposure, Under Armour rightly attributes the beginning for their success to the movie. Prior to the Stone’s patronage, UA was in business for 3 years struggling to make ends meet and make payroll (as more businesses were competing in that space). With UA in dire straits, the opportunity for their products to be promoted on the big screen was pure luck. Immediately, Under Armour became the next innovative brand in sportswear that prospered into a global brand. If it were not for the power of product placement and dumb luck, Under Armour would have fallen into oblivion with the rest of the unlucky folks.
3. Apple. Steve Jobs was at the brink of insolvency with only enough capital to keep Apple’s doors open for another 45 days, until luck reared it’s blessed head. In 1997, Bill Gates invested $150MM in Apple at the behest of Steve Jobs. Jobs needed money to save Apple from bankruptcy, while Gates needed to show the Antitrust authorities that Microsoft was not a monopoly. Indeed, this investment helped Apple escape from financial ruin and Microsoft’s lawsuit eventually reached a settlement. Again, if it wasn’t for luck, Apple would have not received it’s investment on time and who knows what kind of phone I would be carrying and what type of machine I would be typing this blog on. Never underestimate luck’s role in turning a bad situation into a good one, because Apple is a prime example of this phenomenon.
It’s hard for most people to attribute their success, even a small portion of it, to sheer luck, but that’s the truth. Everyone needs a little luck now and then. We, as Americans who truly value our “hard work” have a hard time admitting that our success may not be solely due to the result of the extra hours we put in, or how smart we are, or how we were able to see that one thing other people were not able to see.
Now think of your own life. Your own “successes.” How much of it was due to luck. The way you met your significant other, the way you got into school perhaps or the job you landed or how you purchased your house. Life is a combination of series of events, where we have control over some things and others that just fall into our laps. For some of us, it is hard to accept that something as ambiguous as “luck” could play a remarkable role in our success. But in fact, success is the culmination of hard work, being smart, being fast, and being a little lucky.
Addendum: A few days after I wrote this post, Dan Primack tweeted an article about about Lui Che Woo who is now the second richest man in Asia. Michelle Toh in the article explained, “The opportunities he found weren’t lost on him. ‘I was luck‘ [Woo] says repeatedly”. You can read the article here on Fortune.com.