Roadmap to 'Getting Luck on Your Side'

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Often we hear entrepreneurs say “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” Of course! That’d be easier!

The truth is it’s not enough to be smart. Luck is an irrevocably part of the Success Equation, no matter how many cycles we spin — on this and in other founder-forums or in Ivory Tower business schools — trying to minimize that annoying variable of chance.

Still it can be oddly comforting to remember that we can’t control everything, no matter how smart we are or how hard we work. But serial entrepreneur and blogger Marc Andreessen, whose wisdom and advice we often share with you, thinks we can learn to leverage luck better. A few months ago he began a serial post dubbed, Luck and the entrepreneur.”

In chapter 1 Marc addresses “the four kinds of luck.” The definitions are complex, so I’ll paraphrase:

  1. Blind luck, the sort that cannot be influenced
  2. Action-inspired Luck, which is promoted by curiosity and even repetition.
  3. Mindful Luck. Think of Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
  4. Hard Work Luck: Marc writes, “this is the kind of luck that develops during a probing action which has a distinctive personal flavor… it comes to you, unsought, because of who you are and how you behave.” Or as Benjamin Disraeli, put it: “We make our fortunes and we call them fate.”

In this sense, the 4th type is the kind of luck that you can most influence in your life as a person, and as a founder. By your probing action, distinctive personal behavior you influence your “luck” with becoming successful.

The best part of Marc’s post comes at the end, where he offers tips for how to leverage this kind of luck. “In short, I think there is a roadmap to getting luck on our side, and I think this is it,” he concludes.

So here is Marc Andreessen’s Luck Roadmap:

  • How energetic are we? How inclined towards motion [action] are we? Those of you who read my first age and the entrepreneur post will recognize that this is a variation on the “optimize for the maximum number of swings of the bat” principle. In a highly uncertain world, a bias to action is key to catalyzing success, and luck, and is often to be preferred to thinking things through more throughly.
  • How curious are we? How determined are we to learn about our chosen field, other fields, and the world around us? In my post on hiring great people, I talked about the value I place on curiosity — and specifically, curiosity over intelligence. This is why. Curious people are more likely to already have in their heads the building blocks for crafting a solution for any particular problem they come across, versus the more quote-unquote intelligent, but less curious, person who is trying to get by on logic and pure intellectual effort.
  • How flexible and aggressive are we at synthesizing — at linking together multiple, disparate, apparently unrelated experiences on the fly? I think this is a hard skill to consciously improve, but I think it is good to start most creative exercises with the idea that the solution may come from any of our past experiences or knowledge, as opposed to out of a textbook or the mouth of an expert. (And, if you are a manager and you have someone who is particularly good at synthesis, promote her as fast as you possibly can.)
  • How uniquely are we developing a personal point of view — a personal approach — a personal set of “eccentric hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviors” that will uniquely prepare us to create? This, in a nutshell, is why I believe that most creative people are better off with more life experience and journeys afield into seemingly unrelated areas, as opposed to more formal domain-specific education — at least if they want to create.

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