Imagine your life as a slot machine. The goal is to make all the windows turn up cherries. Now suppose that instead of spinning all the reels each time you pull, you could freeze in place the cherries already won, thus reducing the number of variables needed for a win.
You'd be more likely to get lucky, right?
That metaphor comes courtesy of Janice Kaplan and Barnaby Marsh in their new book, How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life. It's also an excellent representation of what happens as a startup entrepreneur scales into the role of CEO and suggests how she can stay lucky as the leader of a larger organization.
To get those first cherries lined up--the right product, the right market, the right team--founders leverage principles of luck described by the authors. They try to be places where good things can find them. They spend time with people--often non-obvious ones--who may produce valuable ideas or connections. They take unexpected paths. They pursue multiple opportunities.
Entrepreneurs still do those things as they grow into mature leaders. But many of them become harder to do. As organizations gain mass, focus and stability become important. Swinging and swinging and swinging again is no longer possible. As the leader's team expands, she often spends less time with people outside or on the peripheries of her domain--those "weak ties" that create more opportunities for luck.
Luck occurs at the intersection of chance, talent, and hard work, the authors say. Think of talent and hard work as the cherries you can control, setting yourself up to benefit from opportunities when they materialize, either randomly or as the result of events you set in motion in the past, perhaps without realizing it. As you pursue that last cherry, follow these practices to maximize your luck.
Make your workforce lucky.
Probably the best way to be a lucky leader is to position employees for luck. "The people in leadership positions have already made a lot of luck for themselves," says Marsh. If people below them have the same or better opportunities, the whole company benefits. So, for example, employees should be encouraged to take risks--with safety nets in place--to "zig where others zag," as Kaplan puts it. Sending employees out to conferences or trade shows or into the field multiplies their number of weak ties. Giving employees time to pursue their own projects increases the chance they'll discover something and, because it's their baby, pursue it with the passion that produces lucky results.
Zoom in, zoom out.
Luck happens when you spy opportunities. Many opportunities dwell in the blue-sky world of strategy, where leaders prefer to concentrate. But smaller opportunities often hide in the day-to-day details of operation. "If you're a leader who is always looking at the wider strategy, you may not see the immediate things that are going on," says Kaplan. "And if you focus on the immediate things, you may miss the wider picture." Moving back and forth between both kinds of attention, she says, is what makes luck.
Luck is not always created by big, cataclysmic events: the blockbuster product, the IPO. In fact, big events that seem lucky may not be so. Plenty of major acquisitions go south in the execution, just as some lottery winners go broke. What matters is the outcome. And truly lucky outcomes are often the result of "many small events that add up," says Kaplan. So rather than just pursuing that $10 million win, pay attention to the penny whose value doubles and doubles and doubles again every day. (You'll have $10 million in a month.) In strategy terms, rather than pursue the major acquisition, try opening stores in great locations one by one by one.
Share the bounty.
Luck is not a zero-sum game. Companies are constantly coming up with great ideas they are not in a position to use. And while squirreling them away in an IP vault is sometimes the wise option, other times it is better to share with other leaders and businesses. It's a way of putting something out there in the hope of eventual reciprocation. "If I have an idea or piece of luck that I can't use and I share with you, then that is a good thing for both of us," says Kaplan. "Givers get a lot more back."
Accentuate the positive.
Make sure employees feel appreciated so they're motivated to go the extra mile for you. Retain the energy and persistence to keep putting yourself in opportunity's path. "Optimism and positivity" says Kaplan, "are great traits for creating luck."