Is it Better to be Lucky Than Talented?

July 22nd, 2010

His good luck is our bad luck

Someone once asked me something interesting.  He said, “if The Secret’ and all this stuff is not real, then why do so many rich people endorse it?”

I thought it was a good question.  So, here are two possible answers:

1. The “rich people” are the people who became rich selling Secret-related products

2. Rich people became rich first and then believed in The Secret.

We all know the number 1 people.  But what about number 2?

I don’t have any scientific data about this other than the fact that there were rich people running around before “The Secret” came about.  But I think the answer is easy.  Many successful people would rather attribute their success to their own effort rather than admit that luck played a role in it.  And the truth is luck often plays the biggest role.

Of course, saying that success and fame is ALL luck is wrong.  But ask yourself this: what can get your farther in life:

  • Talent?
  • Hard Work?
  • Meeting the Right People?

Look.  There are a lot of hard-working and talented people out there.

But how many careers were launched on talent and hard work alone without the luck of not meeting the right people?

Let’s rattle off a few celebrities whose careers were launched by luck:

  • Justin Bieber: the right guy clicked on his YouTube video
  • Harrison Ford: installed cabinets for George Lucas before getting cast in his movies
  • Marilyn Monroe: the right guy took her photo while she worked at a plant

And if you’re wondering if it’s only celebrities, look at how meeting the right people can get you much farther in business than being especially talented or hard-working:

  • Henry Ford: the right guy forked over the money for Henry to start his company
  • Nikola Tesla: guy invented almost everything (AC current, fluorescent light bulbs, the radio) and never made any money.  But most people DO know Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb), Marconi (inventor of radio).  Tesla met all the WRONG people, notably the aforementioned Mr. Edison who ripped him off.
  • Edgar Allen Poe: Must have pissed off somebody…made 9 whole dollars from “The Raven” and died poor at 40.

In Outliers, Gladwell argued that “success” depends on cultural factors and other factors beyond your control (luck) and some within your control (10,000 hours of practice).  Though I’d even argue that the opportunity to practice something 10,000 hours involves luck as well. How many concert pianists/violinists come from poor families?

I don’t agree with everything Gladwell wrote in Outliers, but here’s the point:

My parents always told me “it’s not what you do but who you know.”

It was true when I was trying to get my first job and it’s true now.  I think a lot of people who became successful would rather not admit that luck played a role in their success and would rather think it was their “mindset”, “hard work” or something else that proves how great they are.

So, now some of you are going to be all mad at me and say, “Fine.  It’s all luck.  I shouldn’t do anything.”

But calm down..there is something you can do.  Go out there and meet people. Some people say “I make my own luck.”  They’re full of crap.

But you can put yourself in a position to get lucky.  You gotta go out and meet people.  Just go out there and create some positive ripples with people.  You never know what’ll happen.

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