“One Lucky Bastard”

Roger Moore made this the title of his memoir about his life in Hollywood.  Although certainly not my choice of phraseology and perhaps not quite so fortunate as he, recent reading has prompted me to think more about the luck factor in life.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, written by Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize winner in Economics),   challenged some firmly-held beliefs regarding success and luck.  He blasted at the theses of two of my all-time favorite leadership books, Built to Last and In Search of Excellence:

“Because luck plays a large role, the quality of leadership and management practices cannot be inferred reliably from observations of success.”

“Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs:  a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression.”

Also, Warren Buffett’s comments about winning ”the ovarian lottery” stopped me in my tracks regarding this combination of luck and skill leading to his success.

“I was born in 1930. I won the ovarian lottery.  I was born in the United States. … I was born white. … I was born male. … I had all kinds of luck.”

Most of us view our accomplishments as the result of hard work and skill development.  We easily recognize the energy and effort put out to create success but fail to understand the influence of luck.

Toby Morris illustrated the differences in his cartoon blog below:


Kahneman, Buffett and Morris suggest a fresh perspective, so I thought more about the luck in my life.  Packed inside that phrase “ovarian lottery” are a host of items that I had zero control over and yet benefited me richly:

lucky (like Buffet) to be born in 1954, in the U.S., white and male…

lucky to be born into a family with strong moral and spiritual values…

lucky to be born with a positive outlook on life…

lucky to be raised by parents that loved each other and maintained solid discipline…

lucky to be raised on a farm that included dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, gardens, wildlife, streams, and forests with enough chores for any boy to thrive…

lucky to be raised in a small farming town where working in the berry fields as a child was normal…

lucky to be nurtured by a mom that put my first dollars earned (at the age of 8) picking berries into an OMSB savings account for college…

lucky to attend a small high school where sports drastically bolstered my self confidence…

lucky to have a father in a managerial role to offer a job for me during college years and graduate debt-free…

lucky to stumble into one of the finest companies when I desperately needed a job and learned more than any MBA program could have taught me.

The proverbial ‘silver spoon’ is not described in that list.  There are no ‘upper class privileges’ present.  In fact, some of those statements could even be spun to look like liabilities instead of advantages.

Regardless of exactly what is on the list, every one has one:  a list of advantages, providential gifts, or lucky ingredients that we had no control over.   Every one is given a set of talents at birth and benefits that fall into our laps along the way.  Your list may be shorter or longer.  Two key points:  one,  do we acknowledge the talents given to us and two, how well have we utilized them?

The principles illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the talents are still valid today.  The length of the list (or number of talents) is not as important as what we do with them.

Success will always be a ratio of luck to hard work.  I’m estimating mine to be 70/30.

Don’t be another Richard.  What’s your ratio?


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