One of our recent guests, Adam Avitable, recently asked me what superpower I would choose if I could have any. My instinctive answer was luck. As in, every time I need something to go my way, to get lucky, then the odds would ever be in my favor. The real world implications are obvious. First you win a fortune in Vegas, then once you’re banned from every casino, you then take your money to the stock market and turn your thousands into billions overnight. The best part of this superpower is that no one will ever know whether you’re using a superpower or whether you’re just a statistical anomaly.
Luck is an interesting concept. Baseball, for example, talks about lucky streaks. Random chance plays such a large role in baseball that Luck might as well play in the outfield. A batter may guess the right pitch. An infielder may be standing in the perfect position. The wind could take a ball out of the park. As a result, baseball harbors some of the strongest superstitious beliefs in all of sports. The game is replete with tales of players who insist on wearing a single pair of socks while on a hitting streak.
Billy Beane, of the acclaimed Moneyball story, dissected the luck of the game with great success. By focusing on a handful of meaningful variables, he managed to turn the odds of the game in his favor. His success focused on maximizing base hits and playing small ball. His strategy worked over the long haul and took the Oakland A’s to the playoffs with inferior athletic talent. It’s an inspirational tale that demystifies some of the ethereal nature of baseball.
The book focused on Mr. Beane’s system that he put into place. In essence, the A’s focused on identifying variables in athletes that were overlooked by other organizations in the MLB. They managed to find discounted talent that outperformed expectations when forced to play the A’s style of baseball. Luck and destiny had nothing to do with the book. The story was how Mr. Beane created a system that fostered success.
Luck and success are related. We all want luck because we want success. What else is luck there for? Of course, we’d prefer luck to be on our side so that the safe falling out of the fifth story of the building lands on the other side of the street, but that’s only a small part of luck. We want luck on our side so we can win the lottery. We want luck to bring us new clients with fat wallets. We want luck to ensure good health, great kids, and a fantastic life.
So, what is luck? Is luck some mysterious force in the universe that can be manipulated to be on our side? Is there a way to maximize the number of good things that happen to us? Or is luck simply the random occurrence of mundane events. If so, then statistics dictates that there are some phenomenally lucky individuals and a few who really got the short end of the stick.
Perhaps the answer is “yes.” Too often in life we reduce complex situations into binomial questions. “Is it X or is it Y?” Maybe it’s a bit of both.
Moneyball teaches us several valuable lessons. The biggest lesson is that Mr. Beane divorced himself from the metaphysical, mysterious nature of baseball and found incredible success by implementing a scientific system designed to maximize opportunities as they arose. In short, luck had nothing to do with Moneyball. Games were won by adherence to a system.
Humans work well in systems. The military is a fantastic example of a system. You plug a human into the system, train him up in the accepted ways, and release him into combat with the proper training. The trained knowledge reduces the amount of learning, adapting, and thinking required for any individual situation. You can respond faster with proven tactics rather than constantly reinventing the wheel. The trained soldier knows how others in the system will respond. The team works well as a whole. The system is designed for success.
Other good systems include the New England Patriots offense, the University of Alabama football program, the Google business model, and most every other successful organization you can think of. Do you think that Google is lucky to be the top tech company?
Yet, Google’s only really here by chance. The founders of Google initially planned on selling the company for a million bucks. Had they managed to secure investors then they would have bowed out of the business and gone off to do something else. The world would be a radically different place. All it would have taken was for a single investor to say, “That looks like a good deal,” and then the multibillion dollar enterprise never would have materialized.
Google has a great system in place. Their business model is clearly very strong. Their business systems train employees to produce top quality work, to secure top quality talent, and how to secure top quality investments. Sure, the company isn’t perfect (see, e.g., Google +), yet the company wins a lot more than it loses. Their tradition of success is born out of a creation of winning systems that are proven to produce results.
Yet, they would not be here were it not for a few random events. A single misstep here or there, or a single founder being lured away by another company, and boom! the whole company is gone and our world is a different place.
We all want luck in our lives because we want success. When you analyze successful people and companies you generally see organizations that create systems designed to produce good results. In other words, setting yourself up for winning stacks the cards in your favor.
Healthy systems are necessary, but not sufficient, to produce the best luck. No matter how good you are, no matter how great your system is, your success still depends on some random chance to go in your direction. Success is a habit built out of healthy systems. When these healthy systems meet the best opportunity, then you’ve got the makings of winning the lottery.