Rule 4: Get Lucky

Rule 4: Get Lucky


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What role does luck play in achieving great professional success?

Significant: 90 percent

Insignificant: 10 percent

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A few months ago, I was talking to Gina Shock, the drummer (and, I understand, one of the best musicians) in the rock group the Go-Go's. The band had just made a successful comeback with a highly rated VH-1 special and new tour after many years of band members doing solo projects. Ms. Shock, admittedly nursing a hangover, told me about the early success of the band. "In 1979, I was just another girl with a dream of becoming a rock star. Like all the others, I packed my stuff up in my car and headed to L.A. Three years later, we were number one on the charts."

I asked her point blank: "What is it that you had that all the others lacked?"

I did not get the self-absorbed, rock-star answer that you might expect. Gina lifted her head up, pointed her nose ring right at me, and said, "F***ing luck."

Other people who have made it to the top note the importance of luck in achieving success, but they use a slightly different choice of words. According to Ron Gafford, CEO of Austin Industries, "We try to design careers and design businesses that are not contingent on luck. But I believe luck always plays a vital role." Stephen Lambright of Anheuser Busch agrees: "There are many successful people who, if they are honest with themselves, have to say some of this was luck." Doug Bain of Boeing agrees that success requires a lot of luck, and he listed for me some of those lucky factors: positive effects from certain matters outside of your control such as mergers, the timing of the retirement of those above you on the corporate ladder, and whether or not you have the opportunity to get exposure to senior management—to name just a few. Indeed, most of the top professionals I interviewed for this book stated without hesitation that luck played a big role in their success.

Getting Lucky

So there can be no doubt. The invincible executive is very lucky. That is a little disturbing. How can a self-improvement book require that the reader become "lucky"? I'll say it again in very stark terms: if you want to become an invincible executive, you have to be lucky.

The good news is that everyone is lucky. According to a wide array of top executives, from Dave Ruf, CEO of the international engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, to top prosecutor Ed Dowd, it is a simple law of probability that over the course of a forty- or fifty-year career, every one of us is going to have two, four, or ten very fortuitous events that occur right out of the blue in front of our very eyes. The problem is that 97 percent of us (1) don't recognize the lucky event when it occurs, (2) recognize the event but don't take advantage of the opportunity it offers, or (3) mistake unlucky events for lucky ones and make bad choices. Those who reach the top and stay there do not make these mistakes.

As Dave Ruf of Burns & McDonnell said, "There are opportunities that go past you weekly, daily, maybe even hourly. Some people recognize them and some people don't. You'd better be ready." The invincible executive is very good at recognizing real opportunity, culling out false opportunity, and then turning true opportunity into accomplishment. Most invincible executives believe that, assuming you have talent, your time will come if you are adept at recognizing opportunity. "There is a whole army of people whose job it is to find talent, and to get those people to the right jobs," says Emmy-winning producer Christopher Lloyd. "Luck might bring the guy who deserves to be a boss in there in four years instead of seven or bad luck might hold him back and he doesn't get there for twelve years ... but if you are really talented, you're going to get found out." The key is recognizing when the opportunity that will materialize does in fact materialize.