Why are some entrepreneurs so much more successful than others? Are they just “luckier”? It is undeniable that luck and chance play a role in shaping success in life. Everyone can name countless examples of chance occurrences and happy coincidences in their own lives. The question is, however, just how big a role does luck actually play.
Whether chance presents someone with a good opportunity or not is not the key question, but rather:
- Does the lucky person actually recognize the chance they have been given? Or do they fail to appreciate the opportunity for what it is?
- And if they do recognise their lucky break, do they take advantage of it? Do they act?”
Successful entrepreneurs spot opportunities others miss – and they act decisively while others dither and waste time deciding whether to perhaps act at some undefined point in the future.
A Psychological Experiment
The psychologist Richard Wiseman has a lot of interesting things to say about the role people think luck plays in their lives and how they deal with unexpected opportunities. During the course of his research, Wiseman presented test subjects with two “lucky breaks.” One was a banknote lying on the sidewalk as they headed to the research lab, the other came in the shape of a potential employer who tried to strike up a conversation with the test subjects in a cafe. The “lucky ones” found the money immediately and willingly engaged in conversation with the stranger in the cafe, thereby hearing about the interesting job opportunity. The “unfortunate souls” almost all overlooked the money on the street and failed to take advantage of the conversation in the cafe.
This demonstrates that the ability to recognise and take advantage of serendipitous openings is a result of specific personality traits and attitudes. Nevertheless, it is very often claimed that chance and luck are the most important factors for success.
Were Bill Gates and Steve Jobs just “luckier” than everyone else?
In his book Outliers. The Story of Success, the Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell sought to identify why extraordinarily successful individuals are so successful. Gladwell concludes that luck plays a key role in success. He constantly confronts readers with questions such as: What would have happened if Bill Gates hadn’t had the opportunity to work on a large computer for free? It is difficult to pursue such assumptions to any kind of satisfactory conclusion. Would Gates still have achieved such incredible success in his field? And if not, would he have been equally successful in some other field, as a result of specific traits, such as the combination of his extraordinary intelligence and his outstanding entrepreneurial qualities, or the strength of certain personality traits and his application of successful strategies?
Books such as Gladwell’s, which attribute a large proportion of the success of people like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to a chain of happy coincidences, have an inherent suggestive power because they lead readers to keep asking: If this single event or that one stroke of luck hadn’t happened, what would have been different? The more fortunate coincidences an author relates, the more likely the reader is to assume that the person they are reading about wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful if they hadn’t enjoyed such a series of serendipitous events.
This is, of course, possible, but it is impossible to prove. It would not be that difficult to identify a significant number of negative events or unhappy coincidences in the lives of these successful people, which could only be described as bad luck. If, instead of being so successful, these individuals had actually failed, it would be just as easy to construct a suggestive sequence of unlucky events, which would equally serve as an explanation for their failure. But this would neglect the fact that it is far more how a person reacts to events, and less the events themselves, that leads to certain results.
By Rainer Zitelmann
About the author:
Rainer Zitelmann holds doctorates in history and sociology and was an extremely successful entrepreneur for 15 years. He has written 23 books, the most recent of which is Dare to Be Different and Grow Rich. The Secrets of Self-Made People – http://daretobedifferentandgrowrich.com/
Kizzi Nkwocha is the editor of Business Game Changer Magazine and publisher of The UK Newspaper, Money and Finance Magazine, the net’s fastest growing wealth creation publication. Kizzi Nkwocha is chair of The Ethical Publishers Association and co-chair of The Logistics Association. Kizzi made his mark in the UK as a publicist, journalist and social media pioneer. As a widely respected and successful media consultant he has represented a diverse range of clients including the King of Uganda, and Amnesty International. Nkwocha has also become a well-known personality on both radio and television. He has been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary on publicity and has hosted his own talk show, London Line, on Sky TV. He has also produced and presented both radio and TV shows in Cyprus and Spain.