There is a proverb that I once read in a fortune cookie which was “it’s better to be lucky than clever”. At first glance it seems like an indictment against most forms of academic effort. Why spend time with your nose in a book when you can make more money on the horses!?
However, I started thinking about it. I’ve started a few businesses, and some have been more successful than others. What was the deciding factor? How clever I was, or how lucky?
The question is currently at the forefront of my mind because as the entrepreneurship tutor at Pearson I’m trying to work out a fair way to assess my entrepreneurship students. If successful entrepreneurship is based on luck, then it hardly seems fair give out degrees in the subject at all.
Conversely, if it’s all down to how clever you are then what space is there for leniency when a student runs into unexpected circumstances?
Most people I’ve mentioned this to quickly explain that “you make your own luck”. That your hard work and tenacity is what puts you in a position where good luck can strike. You may be “lucky” to land a big sale, but you’ll never be lucky if you never make the call to the potential customer.
There is a lot of truth in this, when running a vintage photo booth company, I secured a lot of incredibly good contracts by sending letters (yes old-fashioned letters, it was a vintage photo booth company after all). The more letters I sent, the more likelihood of someone responding positively. However, does the same theory hold for BAD luck.
Again, my instinct based on experience would say yes. Though it’s easy to look at something that goes wrong and just blame bad luck, you usually have more control than you realise. When I tried to start a ski photography company and there was no snow? It sounds like bad luck until you realise, I tried to start the company in May.
So perhaps, all things being equal it comes down to luck. But perhaps how lucky you are can be somewhat correlated to how well you play the game.