What is your definition of the word “luck”? Not the Webster’s Dictionary definition, your definition. Is it being in the right place at the right time? Picking the right dealer in a casino? Turning up at a party where you meet your current wife (could be good or bad luck)?
Entrepreneurs seem to be so lucky, so often. People see their success and attribute much of their good fortune to luck. What luck that they thought the idea would work. The luck of the Irish for old Doyle, don’t you think? It was his great good luck to file that patent when he did.
The passengers in life attribute so much of fate and successful outcomes to random luck. “Lightning strikes for others, just never me,” is a bromide that covers the view of people that are perpetually success challenged. The masses that think like this can not see, or comprehend, that luck has little to do with achieving real success as an entrepreneur.
In business, luck is created. Luck generally evolves from capitalizing on a risk taken. Entrepreneurs are not passengers: they are drivers. The drive to succeed and overcome obstacles inherent in attempting to create any new business requires drive, courage, and passion. Not luck!
This is not to say that luck never occurs and is not appreciated. It does occur and it is appreciated. However, when luck rears its happy face it is usually the confluence of hard work bumping into opportunity! If an entrepreneur accidentally bumps into a funding source while enjoying a latte tomorrow morning at Starbucks, is this luck or the result of a business proposition that is properly seasoned?
My experience is that entrepreneurs create luck by stirring a unique brew of personal qualities. Some or all of the following traits are obvious, in every success from the Wright Brothers to Mary Kay Ash. These qualities are the true ingredients required that make luck occur.
Every entrepreneur is perpetually afraid. The fear of failure is palpable. They can not stand the thought of failure and will do anything possible to avoid it. The need to succeed is demonstrated in a confidence that they develop in their novel product, their ultimate success, and the benefits their product will produce for consumers. Confidence smothers fear. Fear creates inertia. Failures are always afraid, to try, to fail, to be criticized. The confidence necessary to succeed in a brutal marketplace is earned through hard work, study, preparedness and finding answers to obstacles.
We all have doubts. However, successful entrepreneurs overcome fear and doubt and grow in confidence as they master their task. The confidence earned is a great key to attainment of success. There is no luck involved.
Learn From Mistakes
My first sales manager had only three basic bits of wisdom for a youngster starting out on a sales career:
- Make all of the mistakes you must, once!
- Study and learn from each mistake you make!
- If you are torn between choices, and face a choice that might lead to a mistake, make the most aggressive choice!
Everybody makes mistakes. Coca-Cola brought out New Coke and almost murdered a world famous brand. Merck was seriously harmed by the failure of the prescription drug Vioxx. What was the Ford Motor Car Co. thinking in 1958 when the Edsel was introduced? There was the matter of a President of the United States and an intern. Pete Rose has lost his almost certain place in the Baseball Hall of Fame over gambling.
The key is not the mistake, but learning from and not repeating the mistake. The only way we avoid mistakes (almost impossible in all but the most sedentary lives) is to never try anything new. Entrepreneurs are always going to try. The successful ones make aggressive mistakes, learn from their errors and this minimizes the probability of repeat errors.
A baseball player is considered a star if a .300 batting average is achieved. This means that failure is a result 70% of the times they bat. Players hate to make outs. No one could succeed at baseball unless they seek and obtain a psychological comfort zone that enables them to filter and balance the mistakes in making outs, and the positives they learn from making a base hit.
After an out is made, players can not wait for their next trip to the plate to get another chance. This is the way entrepreneurs think after a mistake is made.
A Congressman drives while drunk, crashes his car, hits a parked police vehicle and then claims amnesia. Did the dog ever eat your homework? The NBC television news magazine 20/20 has run several shows showing men using the internet to organize meetings hoping to conclude a sexual encounter with very young girls. The men, caught in the act, always deny intent, knowledge or responsibility. The top executives at Global Crossing, Enron and Adelphia scandalously bankrupted their huge businesses, costing thousands of employees their jobs and pensions and millions of investors lost their investment in equity in these firms. And yet, none of the accused executives knew anything about what was going on (they claim) inside their businesses while they were taking tens of millions of dollars in annual compensation. Responsibility is an endangered quality in a modern world that has embraced the psycho-babble of endless victimology!
If I was the Earth Czar, and could re-engineer one physical feature of the human body, it would be this: the palm of every human being’s left hand would have a small mirror permanently attached. And everyday, several times per day, we could look at the mirror and see the reflection of a man, or a mouse. Successful people, including every fine entrepreneur I have ever known, assume full responsibility for every decision that they take. The assignment of blame on another person, or an outside condition is a diversion.
As human beings we have the unique ability to make choices, free will and the ability to reason. These tools are denied every other form of life. A lion or a fruit fly operates solely on a pre-programmed set of instincts. A lion is nor responsible for what it kills. It is on earth to kill. However, if a person kills, they are solely responsible.
Entrepreneurs assume full responsibility for their success, and failure. The luck so many would subscribe to a successful entrepreneur is actually a manifestation of the ability to make reasoned decisions and abide the consequences of those choices.
Imagine a boy, dreaming of playing and starring at professional football, and suffering 10 years of indignity, disappointment and failure in trying to achieve this goal. After an average high school career, playing in a rural town with no exposure, he is not offered a single scholarship to a Division-1 NCAA school. He plays for four, largely undistinguished years at a small school in Iowa. After graduating, the National Football League does not draft him and he is not offered a free agent tryout. He goes to work in a super market and catches on with an Arena Football League team. The pay per game is $400.
Interestingly, his growing success in the Arena Football League over several seasons makes his name at least a point of conversation in one NFL office. He is scouted, thought to be a bit too old but maybe worth a test in NFL Europe. After one very successful season in Europe, he is invited to a NFL training camp. As camp began, he was listed as the fifth quarterback on the team’s depth chart. An injury to a quarterback, then another quarterback injury, and now third on the depth chart, he has realized his dream. He is signed to a contract.
Now the tale could end here. He is a real NFL quarterback. Goal achieved. However, our struggling quarterback has persisted and now that he has made a team he wants to play, and knows, really knows that he will be a star if given a chance. It takes another season, a few more injuries and he gets his shot. At the age of 28 he leads his team to a Super Bowl championship, is the league Most Valuable Player, is named All Pro and signs a multi-million dollar contract.
Kurt Warner, our quarterback, is the most unlikely of football successes. Every college team, every scout and every professional team missed on him. In a sport where players are computer rated, graded, tested, weighed, timed, quizzed and probed from high school onward not one assessment rated him a player of potential. And yet, he is one of the best players in professional football.
Perseverance can not be taught. Some people quit at the first sign of trouble. Edison tested over 1000 versions of the light bulb before he perfected his invention. Kurt Warner would not listen to the experts telling to get on with his life’s work and that work would not include football. He made his own luck through work, sweat, sacrifice and perseverance.