A quote popularized by Tony Robbins – “Success leaves clues” – can get us very excited about lofty goals. If we were only to follow the playbook of mega-successful entrepreneurs, sportspeople, politicians and artists, we could (and should) achieve the same results. But what most people are poor at understanding is the role of luck in success.
Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, highlights books like Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras that describe common characteristics of successful companies that are built for growth and long-lasting success. Kahneman argues that the companies that are chosen for their success are statistical anomalies, rather than the consequence of skill. Many companies run exactly the same way would fail due to the role of luck and chance. Therefore, the conclusions made in these types of books could well be useless.
Although it is difficult to get your head around, Kahneman’s point makes sense. A year after their inception, Google were willing to sell their company for $1m, but the deal didn’t go through because the buyer said the price was too high. There are likely a multitude of other ‘lucky’ events in the company’s history that will have helped Google to get where they are today.
But just because a lot of success is down to luck, doesn’t mean that we should no longer try. The real question is: How can we put ourselves in more positions to get lucky? We are much more likely to get signed by a professional football club if we play in front of scouts and spectators than if we played in our back-garden where nobody saw us.