Testing My Luck

Gary Player, a legendary South African golfer with nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship victories, once remarked “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. I’ve always believed that, but really, what does it mean? That luck is a utility that increases as work increases (in economics terms)? So I ever stop working hard, does luck then run out?

A recent HBR article shed some light. According to Professor Morten Hansen, the number of lucky events (so both good and bad luck events) in a sample of companies are actually roughly the same; what is different is the reaction to these events. The good companies amplified their ROI to good luck events by investment or concentration of resources; the bad companies just had bad ROI to good luck events.

What this means (at least as a gist of the article and counter to the saying) is that luck is arbitrary, but once you are faced with a good luck event, what do you do? Do you take it and run? Double-down? Or do you hesitate? It’s really how you face and work that luck that makes all the difference.

I recently met up with a famous magazine publisher to discuss, among many things, my startup. Well, to be honest, that wasn’t on top of my agenda - it was just a chat about general strategy for an emerging market. But when it came down to discuss my startup, I decided to go for it and “pitch”. Why the hell not, I surmised. Luck had handed me down the opportunity, and I took it. It turns out they really liked the idea, and I’m crossing fingers on it sometime in the future.

My perspective now with luck is this - it happens. It doesn’t necessarily get better or more frequent with more work (though it may seem that way). What matters is how you react to luck - whether you take it and react strongly to it, or run the other way. So when a good luck event happens, test it initially. See the reaction. If it’s a good reaction, then double down and make sure you invest resources.

Treat luck as an test. Would love to hear what others think.