On luck

I have been thinking about luck for some time now and I have come to realise that it is of two kinds:

  1. The luck that you get
  2. The luck that you make

The luck that you get primarily comprises of factors that you don't have control over. It includes things like where you were born, your economic and social standing, and your physical attributes. While not much can be done to influence it, I did come across an interesting way to process it.

In this podcast, the co-founders of Instagram – Kevin Systrome and Mike Krieger were talking about the story of how they built and scaled the app. One of the questions posed to them was about the role of luck in their success. In response to which Kevin remarked –

I have this thesis that the world runs on luck. Everyone gets lucky for some amount in their life. And the question is, are you alert enough to know you’re being lucky or you’re becoming lucky?

I think this is a great way of looking at it. Although I do feel that this doesn't apply to people at the extreme ends of the luck normal distribution, but it does hold true for a large part of the population.

The inherent logical explanation for this can be that given how complex systems and their interactions are, the outcomes depend on a multitude of factors. If some aren't aligned to suit you, there will be others that will be. Over a long period of time, most of them will have had a chance to influence your outcomes. So it can be implied that for all the times you are unlucky, there is an equal number of times when you are lucky.

The other takeaway from this view is that being lucky should neither be viewed with a sense of entitlement nor with a feeling of guilt. It is important to acknowledge its role and use it as an opportunity to derive the best out of situations when it is on your side.

The luck that you make, on the other hand, is about the opportunities that arise because you do certain things. I see it happening in two ways and these aren't mutually exclusive:

  1. Through credentials like attending a top school, working at a prestigious firm etc.
  2. Doing good work consistently + creating a scope for it to be discovered

Credentials make you a part of a specific group of very well connected and high-achieving folks. They enable you to get a foot in a lot of coveted doors just because of your association with it. So working towards gaining these credentials is laying the groundwork for making some future luck.

While credentials have been traditionally the way to make luck and continue to be very important, the internet has enabled just anyone with or without them to be discovered. You do some consistent good work and put it out there, it will attract like-minded people and open opportunities because someone might be looking for exactly what you're making.

The good thing about the luck that you make is that it is controllable. People just don't realise this. If you think about it strategically and then act on it, it can be used to accrue substantial competitive advantage.

To summarise, our approach to luck should essentially boil down to three things:

  1. Recognise that there are two kinds of luck - one that you get and the other that you make.
  2. While accepting the luck that you get, be on the lookout for when good luck is on your side and use it to your advantage.
  3. Focus your energy on improving the luck that you can make through credentials and by doing good work and distributing it.

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