Think about any incredibly successful person and it's easy to assume they possess something special: Talent. Perseverance. Intelligence. Skill. Education. Connections. Emotional intelligence. A growth mindset.

Who they are inside -- and what that then allows them to do -- makes all the difference. 

Or not.

Research shows that traits like passion, mental toughness, constant learning, and a willingness to take risks do lead to greater success:

  • Hard work is usually rewarded.
  • Perseverance is often the difference between success and failure; give up and failure is guaranteed.
  • Intelligent risk does, at times, pay off. (And if it doesn't, what you learn from new experiences makes success more likely the next time)

When you out-work, out-think, out-skill, and outlast other people...  you're much more likely to be successful.

Think of it as the 80 Percent Rule: Do what other people are unable, or just as importantly, unwilling to do, and in time you should at least make it to, say, the 80th percentile of successful people.

But to get the rest of the way?

To be one of the most successful people?

Bill Gates was talented. And lucky.

Science says you'll also have to be lucky: To be at the right place at the right time, to meet the right person at the right time, to stumble on an idea, a market, an audience... to experience something you weren't necessarily looking for.

Take Bill Gates. Young Bill was clearly smart, creative, driven... he had all the qualities that tend to create success. (Except maybe emotional intelligence.)

Yet because his family could afford to send him to a private school, and because that school was one of the few in the country with access to a teletype that could connect to a GE time-sharing computer... and because his friend Paul Allen shared an article about Altair, the first microcomputer kit, which led them to convert Basic into an operating system for Altair...

Bill might still have become successful. He had the mental and emotional tools. But luck -- or coincidence, if you prefer -- also played a huge role.

Millions of other people are talented. And lucky.

Who you are -- and what you do -- matters. But success is also based on factors you can't control.

For example, research shows:

  • "In any group of elite hockey players," writes Malcolm Gladwell, "40 percent will have been born between January and March." Being born early in the year tended to make them the biggest, strongest, and fastest in their junior age groups.
  • People born in June and July are significantly less likely to become CEOs. Why? Because they were the youngest in their classes.
  • People with easy to pronounce names are "judged more positively" than people with difficult to pronounce names. Why? Good question.
  • Over half of the variation in income across the world depends on the country of birth. Where you're born -- something you obviously can't control -- matters greatly. As the researchers write, "The role of effort... cannot play a large role in explaining global distribution of income."

Bottom line, luck definitely plays a role. 

But so does what you do it.

And whether you try to create your own luck -- because you can.

How to Get "Luckier"

1. Meet more people.

Mick Jagger ran into Keith Richards on a train station platform. They noticed each other because Keith was carrying a guitar, Mick an armful of records. A friend introduced Woz to Steve Jobs because he knew they both liked electronics and playing pranks. Sergey Brin met Larry Page during a tour of the Stanford campus.

Meeting the right person at the right time can make a huge difference. But, like many things, it's a numbers game: You can't luck into meeting the right person unless you meet a lot of people.

And if you assume that good things will happen -- that every person you meet is worth meeting. 

Because you never know where it might lead. 

2. Try more things.

While sometimes success is a straight line, most successful people have tried and failed at a number of things. That's why they're successful: They were willing to try something new, something hard, something off the beaten path... and to learn from what did and didn't work so that next time they were even more prepared, more skilled, more talented, and therefore more "lucky."

Try things. Then try more things.

Because you never know where it might lead.

3. Try more "off course" things. 

Doing the same things, day after day, typically creates the same results.

The only way to achieve differently is to do differently.  Embark on a side project. Learn a new skill. Open up to different experiences.

Do a few things you assume -- but don't actually know -- you won't like.

Because you never know where it might lead.

4. Ask.

Luck sometimes results from the right person saying yes: To your idea, to your startup, to your pitch, to your proposal, to your request....

But no one can say yes unless you ask.

I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help ... I called up Bill Hewlett when I was 12 years old. "Hi, I'm Steve Jobs. I'm 12 years old. I'm a student in high school. I want to build a frequency counter, and I was wondering if you have any spare parts I could have." He laughed, and he gave me the spare parts, and he gave me a job that summer at Hewlett-Packard ... and I was in heaven.

I've never found anyone who said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. And when people ask me, I try to be responsive, to pay that debt of gratitude back. 

Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that's what separates, sometimes, the people who do things from the people who just dream about them.

Unlucky people wait to be discovered. Lucky people discover themselves -- and ask for what they want.

Start asking -- nicely -- for what you want.

Because you never know where it might lead.