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Is Serendipity a Science?

Why do some people always get the lucky breaks?

Gary Player famously put it down to practice when he said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get”. That’s fine if you want to be “lucky” at just one thing, like sinking long putts, but can you make yourself luckier in a more general sense?

Richard Wiseman, the UK’s professor for the Public Understanding of Psychology, thinks so. He wrote: “Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.” He wrote a book about it called The Luck Factor. Thor Muller and Lane Becker, co-founders of the customer engagement platform Get Satisfaction think so and they wrote a book about it too – Get Lucky. Even the Romans had an opinion on the subject, describing luck as “the moment when preparation meets opportunity.”

So what’s stopping you creating your own luck? Well, most of us notice things that match our expectations and ignore things that don’t. We’re psychologically hard-wired that way. We go through our business and personal lives with a kind of tunnel vision, focused on our list of things we need to do. We worry too much about the consequences of failure and become risk averse. We get caught up in the routines that shape, and constrain, our lives.

I’ve been consciously trying to make my own luck. Everything I’ve read says Step One is to put yourself in a position to encounter the new and the unexpected – unfamiliar situations, new people, fresh insights. Expose yourself to things that allow you to connect the dots in new ways and see possibilities you didn’t know existed.

At risk of this sounding like a hippy manifesto, here are my top suggestions for increasing your luck:

  • Consciously put yourself in new situations, such as meetings, conferences. Maybe sit in a different department at work for a day or talk to that person sitting next to you on the plane.

  • Help people – karma is a wonderful thing and kindness really does repay itself.

  • Learn a new skill.

  • Spend time thinking of the outliers not just the average.

  • See failure as an opportunity to learn something new rather than as something to avoid.

You also need to change your expectations. If you don’t expect anything back in return for your practice at being lucky, you’ll be amazed at the results.

When interviewed, most successful people say “I was lucky.” – Google’s Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin have both said exactly that. Sure, they probably had advantages that put them in the right place at the right time but maybe they also had the frame of mind to recognise it was the right place and the right time.

Maybe it’s time you started making your own luck too.

Guest Post by Chris Johnson

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