To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry,” “Do you feel lucky?” It turns out most people do—according to an Inc. survey which found that 89 percent of respondents said that positive outcomes in their lives were based on good luck. Ninety-two percent stated that successful people they knew were also considered to be lucky.
Is luck, in fact, truly a factor when it comes to success? If it is, then is it possible to get luckier?
It depends. In 2016, the Pew Research Center conducted an experiment with several teams competing in a series of games to study luck and success. The teams were given incentives to win prizes, and the results were measured and followed up with questions after every game.
Specific games of chance, such as correctly guessing heads or tails in coin tosses, were deemed to be sheer luck. Contrarily, winning a game of chess depended on the players’ skill level. Winning at poker required a blend of skill and luck.
Researchers noted that those who won games of luck or skill were often more willing to take a chance and risk more in subsequent games such as blackjack.
The study’s outcome resulted in an equation that theorized the concept of luck: Good luck equals skill, effort and risk balanced by intention.
Here is how this equation breaks down:
SKILL: Talent, hours of practice, expertise or experience often increased the chances of winning.
EFFORT: Players determined to win were tenacious and resilient after a loss, and had a higher probability of winning. Note: increasing the value of the prize didn’t result in an increase of effort.
RISK BALANCED BY INTENTION: Players who took chances based on confidence in their skill levels or previous experiences fared better than those who opted to make less risky choices. They also beat out those who were recklessly risky. Players who felt pressure to risk more to gain strides for their teams also made wiser decisions than those who made decisions for individual gain.
This equation echoes the findings of author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers,” which assesses statistics of incredibly successful people who were revolutionary in their thinking—but also extremely lucky. He concluded that in every scenario, luck was not the key element in success.
In every instance, successful individuals put in years of hard work and preparation, which resulted in success (skill). Gladwell also contended that “outliers” (the best and the brightest) worked tirelessly on perfecting their skills, each having amassed over 10,000 working hours (effort).
When necessary, these individuals often took a leap of faith, which was supported by their preparedness (risk) and balanced by their desire to effect change and help others versus achieving their own personal gains and rewards (intention).
The Pew Research Center study and Malcolm Gladwell’s book reiterated the idea that getting luckier requires making changes. Good luck is not simply thrown blindly at individuals. The winning formula is often as simple as seizing opportunities based on expertise.
Perhaps it’s best to heed the words of the late, great film producer Samuel Goldwyn: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”