When Facebook acquired Instagram for an unprecedented $1 billion three weeks ago, many pundits chalked it up to luck. Two individuals, though, saw it differently.
Thor Muller and Lane Becker, co-founders of Get Satisfaction, the community platform that lets companies participate in an ongoing online conversation with their customers, saw it as not just dumb luck, but rather a series of strategic moves on the part of Instagram leadership that led to the historic acquisition.
Muller and Becker have published a new book called Get Lucky, which outlines the skills and elements we need to begin cultivating luck.
"Luck is a fundamental part of how the world works," according to Muller and Becker. "Open any history book and you’ll find stories of curious people looking for one thing and finding another."
The Search for Luck
When asked about the secret of Google’s meteoric rise, company co-founder Sergey Brin replied that "The number-one factor that contributed to our success was luck." Muller and Becker maintain that Brin wasn’t saying this to dismiss his accomplishments. Instead he was arguing that it requires more to happen than any one person can fully take credit for in order for something to succeed with the scale and speed that Google did.
"What Brin can take credit for," they say, "is being open to serendipity, and being willing to use it to his advantage." They add that Brin combined a passion for his work, a commitment to his organization’s purpose and a willingness to do whatever it takes to find the best way to put those qualities to work in the world.
Planned Serendipity Explained
Those qualities are all part of the skills of what Muller and Becker term "planned serendipity." Muller and Becker believe that planned serendipity is the only way to succeed in our fast-changing world, where so many things are out of our control.
"Accidents happen," they say. "There’s nothing mystical about them—but it’s our practical ability to take advantage of the best accidents that transforms these from forgettable moments into incredible opportunities. This is the essence of planned serendipity, the kind of luck you make for yourself."
That's good news, since most of us have at one time or another envied a competitor who seems to win by sheer good fortune while we keep working tirelessly without ever realizing that sudden overnight success.
The real question is, how can we introduce serendipity into business and life and put it to work? Muller and Becker offer these eight suggestions:
- Motion. Maximize physical and conceptual movement in your workspace.
- Preparation. Focus on breeding and feeding obsessive curiosity.
- Divergence. Minimize fixed plans and goals to allow for changing circumstances.
- Commitment. Choose from all your options the right ones to focus on.
- Activation. Create new activities to open up your awareness of all the possibilities.
- Connection. Optimize the number and quality of connections with others.
- Permeability. Replace the rigid walls most organizations put up to keep themselves separate from other people and organizations with an open exchange of information.
- Attraction. Project your purpose out into the world to draw the best and most valuable events, people, ideas and opportunities toward you.
Making Your Luck
But how do you begin creating a life and workspace open to serendipity?
"Break out of your routine!" they implore. "Routine is the enemy of serendipity."
Muller and Becker add that to take advantage of unexpected surprises, you have to put yourself in a position to encounter the unexpected. This is what they call "the essence of motion," putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, but within familiar environments, to engage with previously unfamiliar people and ideas that are connected to your job, your projects or your interests.
As a practical example of how anyone working away at a job might do this, the authors offer the following advice.
"Visit a different department inside your company. Attend a conference in an area related to your job, or even pick a different place to sit for lunch in the cafeteria each day."
"Here’s a little secret," they add. "No one succeeds without an assist from the unexpected. But every successful person on this planet employs the skills of planned serendipity."
How do you change up your routine? Have you had a stroke of good luck happen lately?
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