Make Little Bets and Get Luckier
Knowing we want to be happier and successful is one thing, knowing which direction to go in, and how to arrive at the ultimate destination, can present big challenges. Making "little bets" provides some help with that.
And what about luck as a contributor to happiness and success? It's commonly heard that some people are just luckier than others. That can be partly true. But happier and more successful people are most often those who have prepared well, so they can take advantage of opportunities, when those who lack such preparation can't. There is also some belief that people can prepare themselves to be the beneficiaries of luck by how they think and by what they do too.
Little things put together can become big...
Little Bets - Peter Sims
When seeking to make a change, hopefully leading to increased happiness and success, we're sometimes stumped by which direction to move in. Sometimes it pays to follow the example of Japanese management. If there isn't a decision that's self-evident that can be made, their philosophy is that more information must be sought, until the decision has clearly manifested itself.
Peter Sims says in Little Bets what we should do is to plant seeds or go down blind alleys. Or as Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon says, "Learn and uncover opportunities as you go":
- Do things to discover what you should do next.
- Fail quickly to learn faster. You don't need to know everything before you begin. "Ready, fire, aim", was a characteristic found in America's most successful enterprises in the classic, In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. Spot flaws and continue pushing toward excellence. Be wrong as fast as you can, so you can get to the answer faster. Do to be able to think, rather than think to be able to do.
- Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals. Make good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and to chart the course to completion.
- Go down some unexpected paths in order to get to the ultimate goal, or maybe even re-define what the goal is.
- Connect experiences you've had to synthesize new things.
- Network with people from different backgrounds. (It's not often realized that those from other fields can be a great source of new ideas. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. They may also have a tendency to think similarly. I always tell students that for this reason it's very important to have a strong liberal arts education, no matter what your major is. Insights gained from those fields can be beneficial in business, technical fields, the law and in many others.
It can be similarly useful for liberal arts students to take Principles of Management and Basic Accounting to gain some insight into the business world that can contribute to making them more employable and more insightful before or after they land a job.)
- Small wins are building blocks and landmarks that either tell us we're heading in the right direction or that serve as "pivot points". You must experiment to get small wins.
- Take your time. You'll have another idea. Don't despair. Just keep at it - and keep trying things to be led what to do next.
- The faster you fail, the faster you'll discover new opportunities : Fall forward faster.
- Try seemingly wild possibilities and work into the unknown. Be comfortable being wrong, before being right. Play with new ideas without censoring yourself.
- "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." (Inventor and technologist Alan Kay) - A good philosophy for a budding entrepreneur, or re-inventor like you, to adopt.
How To Get Lucky
Be a Lucky Duck...
People like to say that those who are successful were lucky. In some ways that's true. It's something that many successful people will quickly acknowledge, among them, Bill Gates. In his best seller The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that success can come from being lucky and by taking advantage of opportunities.
Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft and one of the world's richest people, was a bored seventh grade public school student. These were some of the factors that luckily contributed to his success:
- His parents took him out of public school and sent him to Lakeside, an exclusive private school.
- Lakeside's Mother's Club held an annual rummage sale to raise money to buy things for the school. Just after he got there, they decided to spend three thousand dollars to buy a computer, so Gates got to do real time computing as an eighth grader in 1968. (What would have happened if they had taken that money and used it to have the cafeteria re-painted instead?)
- Gates met Paul Allen, an older student, at the school. They worked together, a forerunner of what would lead to their partnership in Microsoft. Allen was also a billionaire and the owner of the NFL'sSeattle Seahawks and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. He died October 15, 2018 at the age of sixty-five.
Gates said that he had better exposure to software development at a young age, more than anyone else did in the same period of time, and all because of an incredible series of events. He and Allen had access to free computing time in a private company, in exchange for some work they did for them, and also at the University of Washington, and they maxed it to the hilt. By the time he started his software company, he was way past 10,000 hours of experience, the level Gladwell says is necessary for someone to become an expert.
Gladwell says that all the outliers he looked at were the beneficiaries of some unusual kind of opportunity - people who were given a special opportunity to work hard and seized it.
But luck isn't just random. Much of it is due to being prepared for opportunity. So seize it when it presents itself. Just remember that "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity." This is when having a college degree, and/or proper training that's in demand, can put you in the right position to take advantage of what comes your way. The longest journey begins with the first step. ( Whether you are a traditionally-aged college student, or someone who has been out of school for a while, take the step. Take a course or program that interests you and ask questions. And here's another secret. If you have been out of school a while, as long as you apply yourself, trust me, you're going to do just fine.)
You might also be able to make your own luck by adapting appropriate attitudes. In his book, Your Money and Your Brain, Jason Zweig includes a section called "Getting Lucky". He cites British psychologist Richard Wiseman, "who has studied hundreds of people who describe themselves as being very lucky or very unlucky." He found that some are indeed luckier than others - and that being lucky can be an assisted skill.
Wiseman identified several characteristics that lucky people have in common and that help bring them good fortune:
They Don't Give Up
"Unlucky people collapse under bad luck...Lucky people treat bad luck as a learning experience." That experience shows what doesn't work and makes future attempts (pivots) more likely to succeed. Have you had failures in your life? If you have, join me and everybody else. The important thing is to learn from them and not to collapse because of them. If you do, your "luck" will get better.
They Look Outward
"Lucky people are observant, eager to engage and explore the world around them," Wiseman said. He mentioned Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon who walked into a lab in 1946 where magnetrons, the power tubes of shortwave radar, were being tested. After a few minutes, he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket was melting. The same thing had happened to other engineers before, but they never thought much of it. Spencer got a bag of popcorn and put it in front of the Magnetron, and later an egg. Both exploded. These experiences led to the birth of the "radar range", what we call "the microwave" today.
Many people can have the same experience, yet not everyone puts two and two together. George deMestral was walking in the Alps with his dog and noticed that burrs were sticking to his pants and the dog's fur. He wondered why. Do you think that he was the first one that had ever happened to? But he became curious as to why they were sticking. He noticed that his pants had sort of a flat weave and the burrs had something that engaged them. From that, after ten years of research, came the birth of the world famous closure, Velcro. "Creativity is seeing what everyone else sees, but thinking what no one else thinks." Don't just be observant, although that's a fine start, ask why something is happening and what applications it might lead to or how it can help to make something already in existence better. The old adage is true: "Curiosity is the mother of invention." But doing something about it is the father.
Toothpaste tubes all used to have separate screw-on caps that would drop, bounce and sometimes get lost. Then someone thought, "Why don't we just have a top that flips up and down?" Voila! No more lost tops. No more screwing and unscrewing. Many creative ideas are not quantum leaps. They are something that almost anyone can observe - and then take it to the next step.
Start to notice problems. If you're having a particular problem, it's likely many others are too. Think about how you could do something about it. It doesn't have to be in product development. It could be in curriculum development or in the offering of a needed service too.
This is far from rocket science, but one problem I noticed was how far people had to travel to take real estate pre-licensing courses. When I started my real estate school in 1977, there were two large, well-established schools offering courses, but some students had to drive quite a distance to get to them. So instead of competing head on head from a fixed location, I drove to where the students were, and out of the county where the other two schools were located. It made it more convenient for students by offering courses at local adult evening school programs in a number of locations. It also made my overhead lower too. This wasn't exactly brain surgery. Anyone else could have done it to the extent I did, but they didn't. I solved a problem many students had and we both benefited from it.
They Look On The Bright Side
Wiseman quotes Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind." When things happen, take a positive view of them. Positive helps attract more positive. On the other hand, negativity flows over whatever is near it and doesn't attract the good things you seek. We are often poor judges of the ultimate result of things we react to negatively:
- "I lost my job. What a rotten break!" But maybe having had that happen will lead you to pursue a new or better career, one you never would have had the courage to pursue otherwise.
- "My marriage just ended and I'm very upset." Yet now you have a completely new opportunity you wouldn't have had before to find a caring partner who you might have a far better life with.
Think of yourself as being lucky - even in the face of adverse circumstances. You may have just dodged something that would not have been good for you - even though you thought it would have been wonderful.
Many years ago, I applied for a management position I wanted a great deal at the time. The group interview I had went very well and I was the candidate the committee recommended for the position. There was another finalist, and for an "out of the blue" organizationally related reason, that person got the job. At the time, I was very disappointed. In retrospect, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. After I got to know myself better, and gave more thought to what went along with the position, I realized that I would have been very unhappy in that job, and ill-suited for it too. Sometimes, even though we don't realize it then, we have been protected from a fate that wouldn't have gone well. People should keep this in mind when they can't get what they want, including the "man or woman of their dreams."
Your positive attitude will attract more luck to you. You'll start to look at circumstances most other people call "bad luck" as "beneficent showers from beyond", which will serve as opportunistic turning points in your life. Just pivot, use the new information that you've gained, and keep moving forward in a new direction.