What makes some people luckier than others? Is luck even real?  If it is, what can you do to improve your chances?  Equally, is bad luck real?  Are the things that many of us may be doing right now that could be sabotaging our chances?

Arnold Palmer once said “it’s a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get”.

Perhaps this really is the case when playing a game where the rules are clear and factors rarely change, practice makes perfect!  In such worlds the impact of many tiny improvements can mount up.  Team Sky have dominated elite cycling by identifying and capitalising on opportunities for incremental change.  From minuscule improvements in aerodynamics, to helping team members sleep better with their own pillow where ever they go, Team Sky knows the compound effect of many small changes can make a big difference.

Arguably while certainly a good strategy for some, this doesn’t feel like luck, rather dedication and hard work.

So back to the exam question; is it possible to become “luckier” in the dynamic and changing world of business?

Richard Wiseman the author of the book, The Luck Factor, took a scientific approach to gain insights into luck.  He took a group of volunteers who either considered themselves to be very lucky or unlucky and undertook some experiments and analysis to determine why this could be.  One simple experiment aimed to discover whether this was due to differences in their ability to spot opportunities. Both lucky and unlucky people were given a newspaper, and asked to look through it and identify how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was over two inches high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

The Luck Factor is a thought provoking read, ultimately Richard concluded that lucky people generate their own good fortune via 4 basic principles:

  1. Creating and noticing chance opportunities,
  2. Making “lucky” decisions by listening to their intuition,
  3. Creating self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations,
  4. Adopting a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Conversely, personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense and anxious than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected.

So how do we rationally apply these 4 basic principles to get “lucky” in business?

  1. Creating and noticing chance opportunities.
    In business it is always too easy to be “head down” working flat out, too busy to look up, then what chances do you have to spot opportunities?

So get out there, engage with your market, proactively test ideas, create an environment where opportunities can occur.  This points to achieving balance in your business and highlights the importance of R&D, key account development and all the other activities that will create the “lucky” opportunities of tomorrow.  The very best businesses are in effect “luck factories” attracting those with the attitude and ability to notice the next big thing.

  1. Making “lucky” decisions by listening to their intuition.

The most important word here is ‘decisions’.  Decisions tend to lead to action, change and results. Intuition may not sound scientific, but the more decisions you make, the more outcomes your subconscious will observe and the better it will guide you.

Naturally in business, you can vastly increase your chances by applying rigour and research to support your decisions, but the fact remains that the process of making a decision is critical, if ever “lucky” decisions are going to be made.

  1. Creating self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations.

Imagine living in the centre of a large apple orchard. Each day you have to venture into the orchard and collect a large basket of apples. The first few times it won’t matter where you decide to visit. All parts of the orchard will have apples and so you will be able to find them wherever you go. But as time goes on it will become more and more difficult to find apples in the places that you have visited before. And the more you return to the same locations, the harder it will be to find apples there. But if you decide to always go to parts of the orchard that you have never visited before, or even randomly decide where to go, your chances of finding apples will be dramatically increased.

Attitudinally, “Lucky” people often literally go out of their way to increase their chances of coming across opportunities.

  1. Adopting a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

No plan will ever be perfect especially if the plan relates to expanding your businesses horizons to try new things to find the “lucky” new product or market.  By definition there will be “unlucky” failures en route. Here the right processes and supportive attitude can serve to help deal with “bad luck”.  “Lucky” people look for what they could do better next time and quickly move on from failure. A classic case in point is the story of the development of 3M’s Post It Notes which was a “lucky” use for a glue that wouldn’t set!

So where does these ideas of “luck” fit in today’s business environment?  Far from being in the realm of the magical, perhaps the pursuit of becoming “luckier” is not just rational, but vital.  In a business world that is changing faster than ever, acting proactively to be “lucky”, deliberately taking time to identify and act on threats and opportunities is more important than ever.

At Mercury Stone we work with clients to undertake direction setting reviews to help our clients identify opportunities and develop plans for the future.  In a way this could be argued as helping our clients focus their efforts on creating their own “luck”.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

So go ahead and get lucky.


Marcus Mackay – Strategic Planning Director
Mercury Stone Ltd