The Thing About Luck

It has forever irritated me that Guy Raz, host of NPR’s How I Built This likes to ask his guests:“How much of your success do you attribute to luck, or just hard work?” Raz has interviewed famous entrepreneurs from Howard Schultz (Starbucks) to Joe Gebbia (AirBNB) to Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn). So his question makes me what to scream: “These are not slouches who stepped in sh*t! They are legitimate visionaries that have accomplished more in weeks and months than us mere mortals achieve in a lifetime.” But then it always surprises me that most of these superpreneurs attest that luck played an important role in their success.

But what is luck? Is it an elusive and fickle force, or an attitude of readiness that all of us can possess? Do you believe in the notion of fate (stuff happening to you) or that you make your own luck? I’m convinced that karma favors those open to possibility, curious, willing to make lemonade. Here’s how Tony Hsieh of Zappos describes it. Or as Basketball Hall of Famer George Raveling puts it: “I have this theory that if you help enough people get what they want, you will always get what you want.”

So long as we’re talking podcasts, I want to relate this story about making your own luck from venture capitalist Ann Miura-Ko.

Ann is the daughter of an immigrant father who always demanded “world-class effort.” In every endeavor, no matter how trivial, she was be prompted to ask: What is world class in this situation? What can I do to make this experience a delight moment?

So ingrained in her was this policy that even as a student at Yale making copies for the Dean, Ann strove for perfection. She made sure the copies were straight, collated and stapled. She went to the donut shop early to get the freshest donuts and coffee for meetings. In this great interview with Tim Ferriss, Ann talks about the ownership (pride) she felt in what others would consider a grunt job (46:00). Luck is not something you get. It’s something you make.

Exactly because she worked hard to set up the conditions that attract luck, about a year into her admin job she caught a break. She happens to be on hand when an important visitor needs a tour of the Engineering facility. Rather than scoff at a tedious job, Ann throws herself into it and so impresses the visitor that he invites her to shadow him during the week of Spring Break. Only later does Ann realize that this visitor was Hewlett Packard CEO Lou Platt. This was the first of many doors that opened for her in Silicon Valley.

So, if that is the luck that Guy Raz is asking about, then I suppose I’m okay with the question. Put that way, why shouldn’t you feel lucky?

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