Are you successful because you got lucky?

Success is not so much because you were smart, creative and passionate as the self-help gurus would want us to believe. It really isn’t.  For the most part, our success or failure has a lot to do with timing and synchronicity – more than most people want to admit. Whenever I write about this, I get push back because many people refuse to accept that success may be a result of anything but their own making. This is a straightforward case of the powerful influence of . This is a straightforward case of the powerful influence of confirmation bias.


But, don’t take my word for it.


There is a write-up in The Atlantic on how we are likely to disregard the role of luck in our success. I have written an extended exposition of that on this blog previously, but here is the executive summary:


Bill Gross (of IdeaLab) has done some work trying to quantify the role of luck. There is a TED Talk on this titled the single biggest reason why start-ups succeed. He says:

 “Little wonder that when talented, hardworking people in developed countries strike it rich, they tend to ascribe their success to talent and hard work above all else. Most of them are vividly aware of how hard they’ve worked and how talented they are. "

He quantifies the importance of timing (which is usually a manifestation) of luck at 42%.
Maybe we don’t talk about it enough because we don’t want to diminish those other factors that reflect better on us than admitting that it was ‘mere luck’.

But ‘good timing’ is something that we should be able to identify and talk about with foresight, not only hindsight.

Sometimes we are so enamoured with the idea and so blinded by passion and lured into the excitement of execution that we don’t want to think about timing. I suspect sometimes it is fear that someone else will do it before us if we wait. And in both instances we get fooled into pulling the trigger too soon.

And then there are cases where we think the time is right but it just isn’t. But it is for the next guy who comes along with the same idea. The one who just got lucky – even if he or she doesn’t want to even admit it.

This is further backed up by more insights be people who should know.

This is Guy Kawasaki quoted in the Aus Fin Review as saying:  

"The way Silicon Valley works is that a lot of ideas get thrown at the wall, then the few that stick, people walk up and paint a target around them, and then say 'I hit the bullseye!'," he said. "So I won't pretend I've got any special insight on that. Better to be lucky than smart."


Steve Jobs spoke about you needing passion... BUT specifically said it was SO THAT you could push through and keep trying. Passion isn't the thing that makes you successful; it merely helps you persist to work hard and keep going. 

Gary Player – well-known South African golfer – popularised the notion (even if he did not originate it) that the harder you practice, the luckier you get. It is not talent, it is not a mindset and it is definitely not a passion. 

The only conclusion that one can come to is that the necessary prerequisite for success is repeated effort, hard work, persistence, hustling or putting yourself out there. Whatever you call it, it is about showing up every day and giving it your best shot. Then, DV, you may find success – for it’s a GIFT. 

Effort, even persistent effort STILL, in and of itself, won’t make you successful, but it at least makes success a realistic possibility.