Mar 142013

Luck Matters (and You Can Only Make Some of It)

Luck Matters ( and You Can Only Make Some of It)

There was a great article recently in the Financial Times that’s worth reading here.  (Warning – you might have to complete a free registration in order to read this article.)  The premise is that most outliers, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, achieve their super status at least partly through luck.  And once that status is achieved, the good things just pile on from there.  This concept is as much Gladwell’s as that term is.

I always say that “you can make your own luck.”  And to some extent, that’s true.  Hard work and persistence and creativity can eventually open up doors on their own, no question about it.  While this article doesn’t say there are limitations to that axiom, it does note that hard work, persistence, and creativity PLUS some good luck is the more likely path to being #1 in your field.

Think about it this way – why is the most gifted golfer of the last 15 years someone who grew up in Southern California with a father who loved golf, and not, say, someone from the sub-Saharan region of Africa?  The latter person might have the equivalent amount of raw talent as Tiger Woods, maybe even more grit and determination.  But he’s probably never even heard of golf.

So what’s the lesson here for business leaders?  First, count your blessings.  You’re probably where you are for a bunch of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with you.  Second, look for other people to work with you who are lucky as well.  I read somewhere once that Tony Hsieh of Zappos asks every person he interviews if he or she is a lucky person – and that question pulls a lot of weight for him.  Finally, put your head down and work hard.  While this point is 100% valid, the thing is…you can’t do anything about it anyway, so you might as well push as hard as you can to do the best you can with what you’ve got!

  • Daniel Clough

    Luck is a funny old thing.

    I remember being totally clueless about what I wanted to do when I was 23. I applied to a bunch of random jobs in the local newspaper and was successful for a customer support position in a local 10 person start up. I ended up working there for 10 years and being COO of a bigger 500 person company. I have some very proud achievements from that journey, made connections with some very smart people and I now have the confidence and capability to go on and do some really big and successful things.

    What if I hadn't of applied for that job or they hadn't given me the job? What direction would my life have taken? I have no idea, but perhaps not as fruitful I suspect (I was in serious need of some direction at that stage of my life).

    I do agree with you that you can make your own luck though – be around the right people, take a few risks, work hard, be positive, optimistic and confident etc. all help).

    Hope all is well Matt and that the book is progressing well. Looking forward to buying the final copy!

    • Matt Blumberg

      It's getting there. One draft in and back with comments. Final due 4/15!Matt

  • Jeff Ramirez


    I just started reading your blog as I ran across your company. Well said in the area of luck and privilege.
    I remind people and most particularly my children how fortunate we are to live in such a rich environment that naturally creates opportunities through common acquaintances we all have. We currently live in the heart of Silicon Valley. I encourage my children to have gratitude and desire. Gratitude for living in an environment that is rich with creative, hardworking individuals for the most part. Desire that they will be motivated and as you put it create some luck of their own.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Matt Blumberg

      Thanks for the comment, Jeff. What a great gift to your children!Matt