This week, with St. Patrick’s Day on the calendar, there’s a lot of talk about luck. Luck of the Irish. Luck of the draw. Beginner’s luck. Lucky streak. Luck in business. Wait. Let’s unpack that last one. While it sounds like a legitimate saying, it fails to tell the whole story. “Luck in business” is most often synonymous with another idiom: Make your own luck.
What is Luck?
Before we stir things up, let’s be clear about what we’re talking about. Luck is defined as the success or failure brought on by chance rather than by our actions. Yes, if you launched a new retail business in 2020 just weeks before the world closed up and went into lock-down, your fledging endeavor may have floundered. That’s not luck, though, that’s a global pandemic. Sure, you couldn’t have known that accessibility to your customer base was about to dissipate, but it wasn’t something that happened by pure chance. Nor is it your whole story, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
It’s Not About Fault
Sometimes it can feel like you’ve checked all the boxes and done all the right things and your business efforts still fall short. That’s not about bad luck, per se. It’s also not about fault. You can do all the right things and find that your decisions are only as good as the data you collected. You might do all the right things and find out that you overestimated the public’s enthusiasm for the things you thought were can’t-miss. You might have done all the right research only to launch a business others considered a luxury just as a pandemic began and corporate budgets tightened up.
Timing Can Be a Factor
Yes, sometimes you can catch lightning in a bottle. (How’s that for another idiom!) What if that new business you launched in early 2020 was a consultancy helping businesses capitalize on technologies that made remote work and networking successful. Better yet, what if one of those technologies is your business? (Hello, Zoom, we’re looking at you.) You may not have had the foresight that everything from education to doctor’s visits were about to shift from in-person to online, and so you might not have forecast the rate of growth you actually enjoyed. However, your business plan did aptly point out that technology had an ever increasing role to play in our professional lives and that long-term, businesses and individuals needed to be prepared to utilize technology tools if they were going to survive. Is it luck? Maybe, but only in that you happened to be rolling out a good idea at a time when circumstances would amplify what was already a good idea.
Success is About the Long-Game
Mark Twain said, “It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. Overnight success is a fallacy. It is preceded by a great deal of preparation. Ask any successful person how they came to this point in their lives, and they will have a story to tell.” Steve Jobs put it a bit more succinctly, when he said, “Overnight success stories take a long time.”
Whether or not you’re lucky in business may depend on when you’re evaluating your track record. It was roughly 23 years between the first time Henry Ford got a look at the gas-powered engine that inspired him and the day he introduced the Model T to the world. He and a group of friends built the Quadricycle in 1896. He set to work on his second model – one that might be more conducive for commercial success. It was a good start but it had problems and in 1901, Ford’s board of directors had enough. They dissolved the company. He began again. And again the company failed. And again, Henry dug in and launched another effort. In 1904, with a new business partner and the Model A rolling off the assembly line, Ford was selling cars. In 1908, the Model T would make its mark. If Ford’s success, or lack thereof, had been based on where he was in 1898 or 1900 or 1902, he wouldn’t have fared well. Ford wasn’t lucky, he was determined. He wasn’t lucky, he was persistent. He was willing to rise from the ashes of failure, regroup, evaluate what went wrong, and try again.
Where Are You Now?
Let’s revisit the scenarios above: you launched a business roughly a year ago just before the pandemic shut down the world. Your business is not the raging success you hoped it would be. Your market predictions are in tatters. You could give up now and write it off to bad luck. On the other hand, you could take a page from Henry Ford. You could sit down with your original business plan, armed with data on today’s market conditions and you can make a new plan that works better for this season. You could revise and adapt. Sure, you could also scrap this idea entirely and give your attention to another endeavor. Just make sure you draw from the experience you had. Even missteps yield lessons that improve your “luck” the next attempt.