Tim on Leadership

Musings on Management and Leadership from Tim Parker

Hard Work and Luck

My accountant (thank you Rick Reiber!) and long-time friend had a saying I first heard about thirty years ago when I met him: "the harder you work the luckier you are".  I've never forgotten that saying and time has proved him accurate.  It's not that I am saying I work harder than anyone else (although I am a workaholic), simply that I do believe that "luck" is often a consequence of your other actions, most of which come about by preparation and hard work.  And I do feel incredibly lucky, having had a wonderful career, some great work environments and great people to work with, marvelous friends, and opportunities most people simply don't get.  Is that because of hard work?  Well, yes, it is.  I worked my butt off in every job I ever had, did the best I could and then strove to do more, and even when not working, enjoyed computers and learning.

But it does bring up a question I get every now and again: how do you get "lucky".  The simple answer is that you can't.  Luck is random, as far as I can tell (and the scientist and engineer in me tells me it has to be) but you can alter the odds in your favor and hence be luckier.  Much like counting cards in blackjack can give you a slight edge on the house, manipulating the odds for luck coming your way is a matter of being prepared, working towards a goal (luck often happens around that goal), and not getting distracted. 

My employees and coworkers often accuse me of being lucky when something I am predicting or working on bears fruit, but again, it's not really luck as much as proper preparation, analysis, previous experience, and hard work paying off.  I am firmly convinced that I am good as an executive and leader because my actions are right most of the time, but that comes about because of what I've just said.  Experience plays a big role, but so does the ability to analyze and figure out what is likely to happen.  Luck, quite frankly, doesn't play much of a part in it.  Those who attribute my being right to luck simply miss the boat.

That doesn't mean there is no such things as luck.  Of course there is.  But it tends to be the same for everyone, evening out good and bad depending on the circumstances.  So while I welcome good luck, I also do the best I can to minimize bad luck.  And bad luck (or unexpected consequences, to be more precise) does happen and we must be prepared.

Planning on luck to go your way in anything, especially a job, is a plan for disaster.  You simply can't rely on it.  The people who claim to be the luckiest still haven't won the lottery, on the whole!  Luck balances out, much like the force!  I welcome good luck when it happens, regardless of why and how, and mitigate the bad luck by being prepared.  And by working hard, I hope to swing the odds in my favor more often.

[By the way, I do know that my accountant wasn't the first to postulate that hard work brings luck.  I've seen similar quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson, and variations going all the way back to Roman days.  But I heard it first from my accountant, who truly is one of the luckiest men alive in so many ways, and I know he always set the standard for hard work.]