"We must believe in luck for how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?" —Jean Cocteau, French dramatist, director and poet
The question is always asked as a choice: Would you rather be good or lucky? My answer is always the same: I’d rather be lucky. To the business world, getting lucky makes it seem like you are good at what you do. When you get unlucky, it’s very hard to be successful no matter how hard you work.
Stop denying it. Luck plays a bigger role in business than most admit. All financially successful people need luck along with hard work to achieve their goals. Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment, believes that hard work alone works only for games where the rules never change. Johansson cites tennis star Serena Williams as an excellent example. Williams worked "very hard from soon after she was born to become a tennis star. But, the rules of tennis don’t change. Unfortunately, that’s not true. In business, you can be on top one day and then just a few years later, you’re at the bottom of the list because the rules of the game changed.”
It is hard for the average small-business owner to believe that working hard and being smart doesn’t always lead to success. We understand that the world is random and have felt the effects of that randomness. But at the same time, we still strategize and plan daily to get the outcome they want. These two conflicting beliefs intersect at a place called luck.
How do you use luck to increase the odds of growing your business? Here are three steps to take.
1. Accept that the world is unpredictable. Many people start businesses to be in control of their own destinies. In retrospect, they realize that is very far from the truth and their lives become filled with even more variables. This is a difficult concept for most entrepreneurs to grasp. “We have to realize that ultimately serendipity is going to matter probably more than any given plan," Johansson writes. "Any plan that you make will ultimately turn out to not work out the way you expect it. You’re going to be making assumptions you didn’t realize were not true, and the strategy you put in place will turn out to be wrong.
2. Keep trying over and over again. When Rovio released Angry Birds people thought the company was overnight success, but this product was the company’s 52nd game. According to Johansson, small-business owners need to “realize that the world is random and as a result, they need to keep trying until they actually strike gold."
3. Pay attention to surprises. Surprise suggests that something happened that we didn’t predict or plan. These surprises many times hold value. Frans gives the example of Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. Back in the early days, when Starbucks sold only coffee by the pound and coffeemakers, he went to a housewares conference in Milan and accidentally walked into an espresso bar. Johansson writes that it was at that moment that "Schultz recognizes that Starbucks had it all wrong. It wasn’t about the beans. It was about this communal experience that you had when you drank coffee with others.”
To grow a small business, make room for luck and serendipity in your business process. Work hard and smart. Pay attention to the surprises and chance meetings. Accept that most business outcomes are outside your control. Celebrate the victories and transition through the disappointments. And just in case, carry your lucky rabbit’s foot.
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