Asked to promote an officer who had already shown talent, bravery and leadership, Napoleon, it is said, would always ask “Is he lucky?” That might have been a more reasonable question than it sounds. While luck is often seen as fickle and unreliable, the sense that some people are just plain luckier than others (and that some people have the touch of doom) might have solid grounding. It’s certainly possible to find people who appear to fit in one camp or another: how else to explain both Kaka’s $13 million annual salary from soccer club Real Madrid and his boy-band good looks? If luck isn’t evenly spread out then but delivered by the truckload to some people and snatched away from others, what can you do to ensure that as an officer of your business, your efforts are blessed by good fortune?
According to Dr. Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at England’s University of Hertfordshire, and author of The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles, it is possible to take action that improves your chances. After tracking closely the behavior of 400 people who considered themselves either particularly lucky or cursed in everything they do, he produced four principles that characterize lucky types.
Pulp the Lemons
First, lucky people, he says, expect good luck. They’re optimistic and believe that everything will work out in the end. That confidence can help them to push through tough times, and might also mean that they pay less attention to the bad stuff and place a greater emphasis on the positives. It’s not really that they’re exceptionally lucky, they just regard the pot holes as exceptional and pay them little attention.
That sort of attitude also helps with the second principle. Lucky people turn bad luck into good. Instead of moping around and telling people how life’s got in for them, they actually take steps to turn things around. Being told to make lemonade out of life’s lemons might make you want to pulp the person giving you the advice, but “lucky” people, says Dr. Wiseman, actually do it. They recognize that things could have been worse, take control and move forward.
Those two principles though suggest that luck is as much about who you are as what you do. It’s about thinking you’re lucky rather than just being lucky. But Dr. Wiseman’s other two principles for winning luck offer much more practical strategies for business owners. Lucky people, he says, are willing to follow their hunches. They’re prepared to take risks, accept that losing is part of life and consider the consequences inconvenient rather than devastating. Because they’re willing to play more often, they win more often – and lucky types who listen to their gut and lose, rather than act only after long study, will then pull out their lemon juicers and think they’ve won.
To demonstrate that theory, Dr. Wiseman asked volunteers to count the number of pictures in a newspaper. A few pages in, the volunteers reached a half-page advertisement telling them that they could stop counting; the paper had 43 pictures. A few pages later, another ad placed next to a picture informed them that they could tell the examiner that they’ve seen the ad and claim a cash reward. The “unlucky” types missed it and kept counting.
Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity
That shows what is probably the most important characteristic of lucky people: they maximize their opportunities. That’s vital and it suggests that there is a difference between chance and luck. Chance is random, evenly distributed and happens to everyone. Luck determines whether those chances turn out to be helpful or painful. It’s a redefinition of an older idea that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
That suggests that being lucky isn’t about buying a rabbit’s foot and keeping your fingers crossed. It’s about a combination of attitude and action. Being a lucky entrepreneur means adopting an upbeat, relaxed manner that allows you to see the bright side of any problem and remain calm enough to turn around a crisis.
It means laying the groundwork for action all the time because you never know when opportunity is going to knock. For an entrepreneur, that might involve building networks on Facebook and Twitter, and attending conferences, even when you have nothing to sell and little to promote. You never know who you might meet and what opportunities those networks could churn up.
It means having your elevator pitch ready and on the tip of your tongue because lucky people talk to the people they meet, win the chances to use those pitches and deliver them, while unlucky types ride the elevator quietly while staring at their shoes. Their attitudes increase the number of chances they come across and allow them to make the most of those chances when they turn up.
And also it means taking action instead of wondering what would happen if you did A instead of B while looking for more information about C.
Dr Wiseman describes one example of a single person who goes to a party hoping to find a date. An unlucky person would come away with no phone numbers and no date. A lucky person would come away equally dateless but with a bunch of new friends, some of whom might later develop into business partners, customers or suppliers.
To become a lucky entrepreneur then, you have to be able to see the bright side of life, be happy and outgoing, be prepared to take risks, network constantly and not sweat the small stuff. You have to believe that your venture will be successful and assume that when you take a step back, the next two steps forward will soon follow. With that sort of attitude, they always do. The result might not be a place at the officer’s table next to a short, French dictator but it might just give you a successful business – and friends who think you were just lucky.