How Goals Kill Luck

August 17, 2012

Richard Wiseman is the author of many great books, including The Luck Factor.  I’ve spoken with Richard on several occasions, and we share a similar perspective: a myopic focus on goals can reduce how lucky someone is.

Dan Pink (an endorser of my Goal-Free Living book, and author of A Whole New Mind and Drive), interviewed Richard for Fast Company magazine. Here is a small excerpt…

What are some of the ways that lucky people think differently from unlucky people?
One way is to be open to new experiences. Unlucky people are stuck in routines. When they see something new, they want no part of it. Lucky people always want something new. They’re prepared to take risks and relaxed enough to see the opportunities in the first place.

But the business culture typically worships drive — setting a goal, single-mindedly pursuing it, and plowing past obstacles. Are you arguing that, to be more lucky, we need to be less focused?
This is one of the most counterintuitive ideas. We are traditionally taught to be really focused, to be really driven, to try really hard at tasks. But in the real world, you’ve got opportunities all around you. And if you’re driven in one direction, you’re not going to spot the others. It’s about getting people to have various game plans running in their heads. Unlucky people, if they go to a party wanting to meet the love of their life, end up not meeting people who might become close friends or people who might help them in their careers. Being relaxed and open allows lucky people to see what’s around them and to maximize what’s around them.

Much of business is also about rational analysis: pulling up the spreadsheet, running the numbers, looking at the serious facts. Yet you found that lucky people rely heavily on their gut instincts.
Yes. You don’t want to broadly say that whenever you get an intuitive feeling, it’s right and you should go with it. But you could be missing out on a massive font of knowledge that you’ve built up over the years. We are amazingly good at detecting patterns. That’s what our brains are set up to do.

Read the entire article

Be sure to read my article from yesterday which provides mathematical “proof” for why a focus on specific goals can reduce luck.

How to Increase the Probability of Your Success

August 16, 2012

My next article in the series on success

You can mathematically increase the likelihood of your success when you are not obsessed with specific goals or approaches to achieving those goals.

Let me illustrate this with the famous “birthday game.”  Here’s the extremely short version…

If you have a room of people…

  • for there to be a 50% chance that two people have the same birthday – any birthday, you need only 23 people in the room (matching day and month)
  • for there to be a 50% chance that two people have a specific (e.g., April 25) birthday, you need over 600 people in the room

These probabilities show that the likelihood of ANY event happening is quite high (e.g., any birthday), while the likelihood of a PARTICULAR event (e.g, a specific birthday) happening is quite low.  This gives us insight into how to improve our odds of success.

If you are wed to things working out in a particular way, it requires a large number of events coming together in a specific way—just like looking for a particular birthday. Keeping an open mind and “increasing your peripheral vision” will improve your chances.  What particular outcomes are you seeking that may be probabilistically limiting? Do you have a particular view of how your business should look? Do you believe that a particular business partner is the key to your success? Are there specific clients that you feel you must land? Are there particular milestones you must hit? Are there technologies you must develop?

The more specific you are, mathematically speaking, the less likely you are to find hidden opportunities that may look different than your expectations.

If you want more details on the birthday mathematics or on how to better leverage the concept, read my American Express article on the topic.

Never Trust An Expert

August 13, 2012

Given my recent articles on success, I felt it was appropriate to dig up an old one (from 2007) which talks about how we never really know what made us successful….

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network. [NOTE: leverage is one key to success, so this is not necessarily a bad formula]

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft (see my Sliding Doors Success article).

Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus. [NOTE: This is a significant part of my new research on innovation and success.  Stay tuned.]

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.” There is a lot that can be learned from others.  

Sliding Doors Success

August 1, 2012

This is the 2nd in a series of articles on different paths to success…

In the movie “Sliding Doors,” Gwyneth Paltrow runs to catch a train.  If she misses it, she will miss an important meeting.

The movie continues down two different paths:

  1. She just makes the train and attends her meeting.
  2. The doors close just as she approaches, she misses the train, and loses her job.

The movie plays out those two parallel lives and shows what happens as a result of a split second different in timing. As you can imagine, her life progressed in significantly differently ways.

This movie illustrates one “path” to success: The Sliding Doors Success model.

Sometimes success is built on goal-setting and hard work.  And sometimes, it involves a bit of luck.

In 1980, IBM was planning on using a DOS operating system on their PCs developed by Gary Kildall.  But according to (a story I have heard many times)…

IBM tried to contact Gary Kildall for a meeting, executives met with Mrs Kildall who refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. IBM soon returned to Bill Gates and gave Microsoft the contract to write a new operating system, one that would eventually wipe Gary Kildall’s CP/M out of common use.

Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, may not have created his empire had the Kildalls been more cooperative.

One relatively small event created a major turn of events.

But as we learned in “Sliding Doors,” when Gwyneth missed the train and lost her job, things did not necessarily turn out for the worse.

The reality is, for most people, there are many “sliding door” moments.  Lucky people create more of those moments.  If one does not go the way you want, there are others down the line.

Of course Bill Gates didn’t JUST get lucky.  He did a lot of work that created the opportunity to have his operating system on all personal computers.  And he had prior meetings with IBM about creating a BASIC computer programming language for PCs.  All of these opened the doors for opportunity to emerge.

One approach to success is creating many sliding door moments, and then knowing how to leverage those opportunities when they emerge.

Over the coming months, I will explore – in addition to innovation – different paths to success.  I will investigate (with several researchers):

  • why some people are “luckier” than others (and how you can create luck for yourself)
  • how “leverage” plays a role in success (and how you can replicate these concepts)
  • how “laziness” can be the mother of innovation (and how it can free you up)
  • how you can do A LOT more with MUCH LESS effort (a 4 hours work week will seem like too much work)
  • …and many more related concepts
Individuals, entrepreneurs, and businesses of any size can all benefit from learning these concepts.  Stay tuned.

Creating Success via Luck

July 31, 2012

Much has been written about success, most of it gives the same advice: set goal, learn from the masters, work hard, reap the rewards.

But what if there is a different path to success?  What if “luck” plays a critical role? What if you can create luck?

Creativity/innovation and luck go hand-in-hand.

  • Creativity is about connecting ideas.
  • Luck is about connecting opportunities.
  • Both creativity and luck are needed for success.
  • Both are learnable skills.

Over the coming months, I will explore how individuals, entrepreneurs, and even large companies can increase their level of success by increasing their “luckiness.”