What role does luck play in achieving great professional success?
Significant: 90 percent
Insignificant: 10 percent
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.