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3 Ways to Make Providence Work in Your Favor

When everything lines up perfectly, great things can happen. Here's how to be ready for it.
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My favorite word in the English language is providence.

It's the best word to describe what drives all things in life and business, a word that is often used in spiritual terms and seems to dictate (by definition) whether something will be successful. When providence shines, things happen. It's not the same as luck. The basic definition of providence--when things line up nicely--doesn't do the word justice. It's better to picture a ray of sunshine hitting a building in just the right way that causes a heavenly glow. It just doesn't happen that often. It's a perfect alignment of people, ideas, markets, and trends.

With a little hard work, you can make providence your ally.

While providence is (again, by definition) not something you can dictate or predict, it is something you can recognize and acknowledge. You can make providence work in your favor, so that when things do line up in your favor, the reward is even sweeter. Here's how.

1. Look for the signs

Providence has a noticeable glow. Just ask people who are in love and find out how they just "happened" to be waiting in line at Starbucks together or visited the same library in college after their classes ended. In business, you have to look a little closer for providence--the rays are not always as obvious.

I remember when I first started building a graphics design team long ago. This was back when people were doing page layouts by hand on a drafting table, a.k.a. the Dark Age. I knew there was some providence involved: computers were finally fast enough to run page-layout programs, the company was brand new and needed some fresh marketing materials, I was motivated to make more money, and the staff was all a little bored by their routine. Providence. I ended up convincing the powers that be to do a complete overhaul. In a matter of weeks, everyone had a brand new Mac sitting on their desk. After that, I quickly catapulted into a management role.

2. React to the signs right away

Providence might be shining right in front of you, and you might see all of the indicators, but you have to be prepared to react accordingly. And, you have to react quickly.

My favorite example of this is the Tesla Model S, the luxury electric vehicle that everyone is still raving about. You might think it's pure luck that this car became such a big hit. No, it was providence. One of the Merriam-Webster definitions of providence fits Tesla to a T: the timely preparation for future eventualities. When the car debuted in 2012, there were already dozens and dozens of EV charging stations in California, but they were under-utilized. Anyone who owned an EV at the time could barely drive 100 miles. The Model S can drive almost 300 miles per charge--it capitalized on all of those charging stations. (Since then, Tesla has started building its own vast network of fast-charging stations across the U.S.)

Yet, think about the providence involved that made the Model S such a success: gas prices were soaring, the auto industry had just started rebounding from the worst economic downturn in decades, and the Model S debuted right at the start of summer. It's amazing to recognize that Tesla even had the car ready for U.S. deliveries, but it's also no accident.

In your company, it's important to line up the right people, the best product, the most-dedicated customer support, the right price, and the most compelling marketing effort and then pounce when providence shines. The smartest entrepreneurs don't just wait for providence to happen and then react; they work hard and make sure everything is aligned perfectly at the right moment.

3. Keep up the momentum

Reacting to providence is critical, but no company wants to be a one-hit wonder. Of course, the best example of repeatedly capitalizing on providence is Apple.

We all know the story. When Steve Jobs first started Apple, the home-brew computer market itself was just brewing. Apple sprung to life, and it was providential. The real brilliance of Jobs' entrepreneurship was not that he hired the smartest people he could find, or that he created the most compelling marketing materials of the period, or that he hooked up with the most motivated investors in the area, or that the first product actually did something innovative. It's that he did all of those things and reacted in time to providence. And then he did the same thing again. And again. And again.

What set Steve Jobs apart from other entrepreneurs is that he worked incredibly hard, kept looking for the signs of providence, made the most of that providence when it did shine, and then worked incredibly hard to make sure his company kept reacting to providence again and again and again. He didn't just work hard; he didn't just rely on providence. He did both. He perfected the art of providence capitalization. That's what leads to the most success. And it's the best model of entrepreneurship ever since.

Last updated: May 15, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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