Many successful people acknowledge that luck is a factor in business, including Sir Richard Branson. In his autobiography, Losing My Virginity, he says: “To be successful, you have to be out there; you have to hit the ground running. And if you have a good team around you – and more than a fair share of luck – you might make something happen.”
In Eastern culture, luck is taken seriously. There is tremendous diversity in people’s attitudes toward luck in the East, but there are also many constants. The symbolic architecture in China for example has several examples which pertain to luck and business. Most notably, certain numbers signify wealth, prosperity, success, and longevity. The luckiest numbers are six (good for business), eight (representing wealth and prosperity), and nine (meaning long-lasting). The number eight is a particularly potent symbol because its pronunciation is a homonym for “prosperity/to get rich”. A prestigious address in the UK can be important for UK businesses, but the Chinese put as much importance on telephone numbers. When observing a business card a Chinese business person will focus on the numbers. The more 8s there are in a telephone number, the higher the perceived status of the company.
A number 8 in the postal or telephone code of an area can positively boost sales to Chinese buyers. Monterey Park in California, now known as the “Chinese Beverley Hills” was successfully developed by Fred Hsieh. The key marketing tool? The area had telephone code 818.
So, should we take luck seriously?
Chengwei Liu, Professor of Strategy and Behavioural Science at ESMT Berlin, has spent several years researching extraordinary performance in the world of business and concluded that often luck is mistaken for skill. Instead of learning from “great firms” and trying to imitate the most successful people and organisations, Liu’s research suggests that the more exceptional success is, the less we can learn from them because moving from “good to great” often requires luck by being in the right place at the right time.
A great example of Liu’s theory is an anecdote from entrepreneur Will King, founder of King of Shaves, in which he connects the sources of success and the role that luck plays.
“Napoleon was once famously asked: ‘Would you prefer courageous or brilliant generals?’ He replied: ‘Lucky ones’. Of course, luck plays a part in success, being at the right place, at the right time, with the right product certainly helps, but you also need the strategy. Of course, people who work hard get the chance to open more doors than others, and you never know who or what might be standing behind the next door…
“Luck played a part in King of Shaves’ growth, especially in the early 1990s. The internet was in its infancy and we were able to snaffle the web address shave.com for just $35! There were ‘only’ two competitors in our market space – Gillette and Colgate Palmolive – I’d no idea there was so few. I always regarded KMI (the company I founded to market King of Shaves) as a ‘lucky’ company, something always came along that kept us ahead of the rest.
“Success comes from many sources, but entrepreneurs usually hold themselves primarily responsible. After all, if they hadn’t started it up, there’d be nothing to get lucky with. But, entrepreneurs must keep a sense of perspective of their ‘genius’. Some are happy to tell you all about when they’ve not been so lucky (or even failed), which gives an important context to what success looks like. Some unluckiness – aka failure – will help you to become lucky – aka successful.”
In his latest book ‘Go Luck Yourself’ author and brand strategist, Andy Nairn, contends that organisations spend too much time trying to reduce the role of chance and not enough encouraging serendipity. Drawing on everything from architecture to zoology and almost 30 years working with some of the most successful companies on the planet, the book reveals a series of thought-provoking, luck-induced strategies and explores the power of luck in building a brand.
As one of the world’s most respected brand strategists and a founder of one of the UK’s most successful creative agencies, Lucky Generals, he’s sharing his luck with others, donating his royalties for Go Luck Yourself to Commercial Break: an organisation that helps working-class kids get a lucky break into the creative industries.
Is it possible to capitalise on luck?
So, if success is down to luck should I even try? Yes, as the above examples have proven, luck is much more than being ‘lucky’.
“Chance favours the prepared mind,” as Louis Pasteur, the French chemist, once wrote. Luck and timing can be an important part of the success of any company. Good and bad luck affects everyone, but only some can maximise the return on luck. Indeed, you can increase the chances of luck shining on your business by changing your thoughts and behaviours to get better results; uncover your organisation’s hidden treasures, spot opportunities in unexpected places and turn misfortune into good fortune.
Here are 4 actionable tips to let luck into your life:
- Maximize each opportunity: Lucky people go out and look for additional possibilities to make things happen. Don’t bet the success of your business on a single action or decision. And don’t invest your company’s future on one product, employee or customer. The more chances you have for success; the more times you can be successful. Make small, patient decisions. Learn what you can from the results, and then take another action. This can also help minimise the damage of a failure and may allow you to learn from each result.
- Listen to your gut: Lucky people tend to sharpen, then act on their intuitions. Unlucky people likely don’t trust themselves or their actions. Developing intuition is about honing a skill in a certain area to see patterns that others miss. It takes diligent practice over a long period of time.
- Expect luck: People who think they’re lucky and successful may have more of an opportunity for it to end up that way. This is because they optimistically focus on a victorious outcome. In Earl Nightingale’s book, The Strangest Secret, he emphasised that “we become what we think about.” In business, if you focus on being afraid of not making a sale, you probably won’t make that sale. If you’re pessimistic, your actions can become invested in failure rather than success. In fact, according to research led by Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne in Germany, wishing someone luck can improve their chances of success.
- Optimise misfortune: You will likely fail some of the time. Whether this is due to wrong actions, insufficient training, poor timing or just plain bad luck isn’t important. What is key is to learn what you can from failure right now, move on to take another action that can give you an additional chance of success.
Finally, remember when all else fails, do what movie producer Samuel Goldwyn claimed: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”