Don’t you wish you could be as lucky as Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, who always seem to be in the right place at the right time for their business ideas to thrive? After many years of working in large companies as well as small, and watching the people that succeed, I’m convinced that luck has very little to do with it. I see instead a common set of principles that all these people live by.
Others argue that the harder they work, the luckier they get. In fact, there is no substitute for working hard, but I believe a bigger edge is working smart. We all know people who work twenty hours a day, and are always “too busy,” but never seem to get the results they dream about. My conviction is that working smart is the embodiment of the following business principles:
Plan to deliver more than you commit. Make your habit one of under-promising and over-delivering. Always give more than you get. The most successful business people avoid any feelings of entitlement, never keep score with peers, and never try to extract favors. They get more personal satisfaction from giving than from receiving.
Never seek excuses when things don’t work. To the best of the best, good luck is actually an excuse for something they didn’t anticipate, and makes success random. They accept responsibility for all actions and inactions, and never point the finger of blame at anyone or anything else. This forces them to prepare better for the next time.
Always treat failures as learning opportunities. There are no mistakes; only experiments that didn’t work. Every good entrepreneur learns to pivot, and learn from that experience, but never see failure. Mark Zuckerberg started Facemash as a dating site for Harvard elite, but found success only after morphing it to Facebook social media for all.
Never give up until you achieve your dream. Many experts believe that the single biggest cause of startup failure is entrepreneurs simply giving up just prior to success. Thomas Edison made his own luck by enduring over 1,000 failures before finding a light bulb filament that worked. He kept his energy focused and avoided naysayers.
Maintain self-confidence as well as respect for others. Confidence in yourself is key, but not to the extent of arrogance or distrust of others. The best entrepreneurs admit their own weaknesses, and build relationships and trust with people who can help them. The right relationships with the right people can be your greatest source of luck.
Be willing and able to work collaboratively. Products may be invented by a single person, but successful businesses require a team of people working together. That means everyone is willing to share what they know and share in successes. The results are greater than the sum of the parts. Luck is never seen as a required team member.
Show up for more opportunities. When you are dealing with all the unknowns of new and untested business ventures, success follows the laws of probabilities. Many people set their scope of interest too narrowly, or look for “sure things” before they start a new venture. Elon Musk found initial success with PayPal, but has since pursued dozens of initiatives, including SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Solar City, and Hyperloop; not all thriving yet.
With these principles, I’m convinced that you will find working smart in business a lot more productive than working hard, and your luck will improve as well. Of course, an even better way to improve your luck is to work harder and smarter. It also helps to come to the table with a can-do mindset, and the lucky-attitude traits of humility, perpetual curiosity, and optimism.
If you are still feeling particularly unlucky in your business, maybe it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. You may be your own worst enemy. Are you doing the right smart work today to get lucky in your business tomorrow?
*** First published on Inc.com on 12/20/2016 ***