Some believe that success in life comes from making and sticking to a smart plan. Others believe it comes purely from good fortune--being in the right place at the right time, or seizing opportunities when they land at your feet.
Mathematician Zoe Cunningham, Managing Director of Softwire Technology, argues that in reality, success in life boils down to how skillfully a person can combine the two. An expert in probability, Cunningham was named one of 2013's 100 most influential people in Tech City. The BBC also selected her as "the Brightest Woman in Britain." She was part of former Prime Minister David Cameron's trade delegation to China, works occasionally as an actor, and has authored three books. With so much varied experience, this YPO member clearly understands the interplay of strategy and luck.
Cunningham who is also a world champion at backgammon, believes that "You can create more opportunities by looking at life probabilistically, rather than only working at things that you know will come off as a certainty. Similarly many opportunities that arise are no use to you if you are not poised to take advantage of them."
In our interview, Cunningham provided insights into how she used strategy and luck to dominate the backgammon and the business world.
1. Have multiple goals for different areas of life.
If your only scorecard is your bank balance or the awards on your wall, you will miss out on many chances to grow your life. "Think of all the different areas in which you could achieve and work towards goals in all of them," she advises. Achieving some goals could provide a stepping stone in entirely different area down the line.
2. Make plans, but be prepared to adjust as situations change.
You might get new information, or shift priorities, or have to deal with setbacks. "A plan can help keep you on track, so it is worth making," acknowledges Cunningham, "But it will go out of date as circumstances change. Don't be afraid to redraft it many times along your journey." As you grow through different stages of life, your definition of success might change. Your strategy should adjust accordingly.
3. Try domain and direction planning.
Cunningham explains: "There are four types of planning: no plan, goals, process planning, and domain and direction planning. Learning about domain and direction planning was very helpful to me, especially when trying to make my way in the world of acting where it is extremely hard to set goals that can be achieved with certainty." She advises having a general sense of where you want to go, and concentrate on general progress in that direction. If you keep in mind a variety of areas you'd like to explore, you will be more ready and willing if a door opens unexpectedly.
No one can see exactly what the future will always hold, so it is not possible to make a perfect plan. "If you have big enough goals, you can be sure your current plan isn't 100% correct. If it was that easy, everyone would win!" Instead, learn how to reflect and measure your progress as you go. Whenever new tactics or a different approach is needed, make the adjustment and create a new iteration of your plan.
5. Aim high.
"All giant successes have some factor of luck. That's why it is imperative to 'shoot for the moon' in your goals," she insists. "Given that you are best placed to take advantage of the luck that you have prepped for, these opportunities could escape you if you didn't aim high enough. Your brain sees what it is primed to see - by aiming high you will not only be better able to take advantage of opportunities, but you will be more like to even spot them!" If you set your aims low, the rewards will be more modest when that lucky number comes up.
6. Keep in mind that many things in life are cumulative.
With that in mind, current successes can be combined into new wins. "As you gain success in one area, you can utilize that in another," she says. "An example for me was following an impulse to write a book, which led me to write another and get a publisher, who then agreed to publish a third book about my acting career - which will be very helpful to me as an actor."
7. Remember life is long.
It is okay to defer a goal if it will be more appropriate at a different time of your life. "If you wait, sometimes you might find an opportunity arises that it is best suited for." After all, both preparedness and patience feed into a successful strategy.
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