"Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men," American writer E. B. White once said. That's because we run the risk of appearing shallow when we talk about luck.
Small-business owners pride themselves on their hard work—cause and effect is an engrained concept in our business culture. But luck is not an ephemeral concept. A 10-year scientific study into the nature of luck shows that most people, in large part through their attitude and behavior, make their own good and bad luck.
In researching why some people seem to live charmed lives full of lucky breaks, Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England, discovered that lucky people share four traits that help them make their own luck:
- They're good at spotting chance opportunities,
- They listen to their intuition when making decisions,
- They have positive expectations, and
- They have a resilient attitude that helps them change bad luck into good.
Wiseman published his findings in The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind. The "Luck Profile" included in the book is a quick self-assessment to help you see how you fare in these four areas.
But no matter how hard we work, we can all benefit from having a little luck come our way. What can you do to make your own luck? Here are five tips:
1. Show Up More Often
Contrary to the popular adage that opportunity will come knocking, you have to get out and seek it. You can increase your odds of encountering chance opportunities by networking, online and in person. Keep in touch with a large group of people: friends, former colleagues, acquaintances and family members. You never know where an opportunity lurks.
Attend conferences and industry events, write a blog or volunteer to help at community events. Join LinkedIn groups, and increase your presence on social media such as Google+ and Twitter by sharing quality content. Don't turn down invitations to meet. Rub shoulders with connected people. Send an email to people important in your industry to share feedback or an article that might be of interest to them. Compliment them on an achievement, or ask to meet with them. It may surprise you to find out how generous people can be.
One thing lucky people have in common, Wiseman discovered, is that they build and maintain a strong "network of luck." Consider your wide-ranging contacts your luck Rolodex.
2. Be Sociable
Like it or not, our body language can make or break our chances of connecting with others. We cannot maximize our chance opportunities without first connecting with those around us.
Think about this: Whenever you go to a gathering or attend a meeting, do strangers initiate conversations with you? Research has revealed that lucky people seem to be able to draw others to them by exhibiting body language and facial expressions that other people find inviting. For example, the lucky people engaged in far more eye contact and smiled twice as often as the people who considered themselves unlucky. Lucky people also tended to have three times as much "open" body language as unlucky people.
A little self-awareness about how we interact socially can make a difference in connecting with others.
3. Loosen Up
Wiseman's extensive research shows that lucky people tend to be more relaxed than most and more likely to notice chance opportunities, even when they're not expecting them. Anxious people, on the other hand, tend to have a very narrow focus of attention. This causes them to miss noticing the opportunities that surround them.
Increase your ability to relax and let loose of your anxieties when you're interacting with others. Think about how many chance opportunities you may have missed as a result of showing up with many anxieties on your shoulders. You'll never know for sure what would have happened if you weren't in such a rush to leave at the end of a gathering or big meeting because you had a big project nearly due. How might an encounter have been different if you weren't so distracted by the emails you needed to return when you were introduced to someone?
4.Get a High ROL
ROL (return on luck) is a phrase coined by Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck—Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. Collins studied the role of luck in explaining corporate success. His research showed that great companies didn't have any more luck than average companies during times of uncertainty. But great companies capitalized on their luck (both good and bad).
So it's not the luck you encounter that counts, but what you do with it—your return on luck. Great companies in the study increased their ROL through a combination of fanatic discipline (staying focused on core values and process in good and bad times), empirical creativity (innovating from a sound, empirical base), productive paranoia (maintaining hyper-vigilance and being prepared for inevitable bad luck), and Level 5 ambition (being ambitious for a purpose beyond themselves).
Are you prepared to cope with bad luck events that may come your way? Are you getting the right ROL in your business? Are you able to adapt your strategies to capitalize on good luck? Or are you squandering your good luck events by being too absorbed in your daily activities to recognize a lucky opportunity that comes your way?
"Getting a high ROL," Collins advises, "requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life and not letting up."
5. Cultivate Generosity
Research conducted by Anthony K. Tjan, author of Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur and Build a Great Business, shows that luck can be cultivated through a combination of what Tjan calls a "lucky network" and a "lucky attitude." A lucky network is built on a genuine interest in other people. This lucky network is in part the product of a lucky attitude, which involves seven traits found in those who have a high luck quotient.
One of these traits is generosity. Instead of looking for what you can get out of a new relationship, generosity moves you to see how you can help the other person instead. Helping five new people is likely to attract better opportunities for you than trying to extract favors from five new contacts. As Tjan points out, "Lucky networks are strengthened by bets on good people."
If you want to know the role that luck plays in your business success and decision-making style, take Tjan's free online Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test. What do the results tell you? Are you that luck-driven person who seems to have just the right disposition and outlook that can help you build a successful business?
Inspiration and hard work are important to business success. But there's no doubt that luck also matters.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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