Riding Randomness – The First Principle

Dear readers,

Apologies for the almost four months of blog silence. Between August and November this year, I dedicated most of my creative effort to my new book – Riding Randomness: Another kind of success story.

Starting this week, I will publish several excerpts from the book. If you like my writing and know a publisher or literary agent who would be open to getting the book in print, I will be forever grateful for the introduction.

Principle 1. Accept that randomness plays a huge role in our lives and that what happens with each of us is not entirely dependent on our own actions.

Success stories give the false belief that achieving success depends only on your effort and personal qualities. It doesn’t! And throughout this book, I argued against this thesis.

The outcomes we have in our lives are the result of the interaction between luck and personal qualities and effort. When telling their stories, most successful people focus only on the personal qualities and the effort they’ve put into – I worked hard. Only a few very successful people, such as Bill Gates, acknowledge that they had benefited enormously from good luck.

Whenever I tell people that their accomplishments are also due to luck, I get a lot of negative reactions and I am contradicted immediately with do you know how hard I worked for this? I never said that successful people didn’t work hard for their success. I never said that they lacked talent or skill or drive etc. I simply say that in order to achieve success, may it be small or huge, you need good luck too. People who achieved success remember only the part that was up to them to do. These people don’t notice tailwinds.

Motivational speakers and success gurus focus only on the part that the individual can influence. You can influence how hard you work, but you can’t influence the market trend your business is in, the country where you were born or the year when you were born.

There is a wonderful example about how luck influences success given by Professor Robert H. Frank in his book Success and Luck: Good fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. When Robert H. Frank finished his PhD., he applied for various positions as Assistant Professor at multiple universities. He ended up interviewing for three positions: one at a teaching university, one at the University of Wisconsin and one at Cornell University which is one of the eight Ivy League schools. In the competition at Cornell University, Robert H. Frank came in seventh. Luckily for him, that year was the only year in which Cornell University hired seven and not four-five Assistant Professors in the department of economics for which Robert H. Frank applied.

Nowadays, Robert H. Frank is an accomplished scholar and author of several very good books. He is the first to recognize that without the luck of getting that atypical seventh opening in the Economics Department of Cornell University, he would have taken the job at the teaching university and his career would have been completely different.

Of course, Robert H. Frank worked hard and of course, he is a smart person. But, without the luck of being born in 1945 and finishing his Ph.D. in 1972 the exact year when Cornell University had an additional job opening, all his personal qualities and effort wouldn’t have taken him to where he is now.

When I say that you need good luck in order to succeed, people understand that it is not their effort and talent, but luck that brought them success and they feel attacked. But it is not either luck or personal effort and skill. You need both and one without the other isn’t going to do much.

Corollary to the first principle: be kind and grateful

One of the reasons I tell successful people that what they have achieved was also due to good luck is because, somehow, some of the people who achieved some level of success believe that they are more deserving than people who achieved less success. It might be so, but it can also be that the successful people benefited from good luck, privilege or tailwinds that the less successful people didn’t. Someone’s lack of success isn’t entirely due to them being less good. It can simply be that less successful people had to overcome lots of headwinds in their lives.

Oh! I worked hard for my success and they don’t have more money because they’re lazy! Is something that ignorant successful people often say about people who achieved less success. This is only a manifestation of not understanding how the world works.

Randomness gives some of us more headwinds than tailwinds and the other way around. Simply because you achieved success doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a better person than those who didn’t make it big.

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