“Well, do ya, punk?” No prizes for identifying the quote – but let me quickly turn from Clint Eastwood to Warren Buffet.
Regular readers of this blog will know of my admiration for ‘The Sage of Omaha’ – and not simply because his wealth is measured in billions. Sound business principles, consistently applied over the long term – and a distinct tendency to invest in real businesses that make things. What’s not to admire?
And yet Warren Buffet attributes most of his success to luck. Anthony Tjan, in a really interesting article in the Harvard Business Review explains:
[Warren Buffet] claims he won the “ovarian lottery” by being born at the right time in a country where his skill set allowed him to amass great wealth. Buffet asks people to imagine there is a ball representing each person on the earth. If he had been one of those balls pulled out in a different era – say millions of years ago – he’d have been pretty useless and most likely would have been eaten by a dinosaur. And if he were on a desert island the value of his skill [investing and allocating capital] goes nearly to zero.
I was having more or less the same discussion with my eldest son the other day.
“What would we have been in the middle ages, Dad? Would you have been the Lord or would you have been the serf?”
The answer is, I don’t know. The qualities you needed to be a Lord of the Manor (apart from being the previous Lord of the Manor’s son) seem to me the qualities that would best fit you for a life of crime these days. The term ‘robber baron’ all too often appears to have been exactly right.
So no. Sorry to disappoint my son but I don’t think I’d have been Lord of the Manor. Hopefully I wouldn’t have been a serf, but I’m not sure my skill set would have been right for Medieval England.
I know that’s a very simplistic argument and I’m ignoring lots of factors such as education and environment – but you get my point. I happen to think my skill set is exactly right for what I do now.
So in that sense, I might not be Warren Buffet – but do I feel lucky? Yes I do. I’m in the right place at the right time. I’ve ‘lucked out’ as they say in the States.
And I’m not alone. Because when you ask a cross section of entrepreneurs what’s been the biggest factor in their success a surprisingly high proportion attribute it to one factor above all others: luck.
But clearly, luck on its own isn’t enough. The simple truth is that all of us are in the right place at the right time at some stage in our lives. In fact, I’d say we’re in the right place at the right time two or three times. The trick is to recognise it – and above all, to take action when you do recognise it.
Tjan and his team identified three key characteristic in successful entrepreneurs who admitted to being lucky:
• They were curious about new trends and developments
• They were naturally optimistic
• And they were open to new ideas
From my experience with the Alternative Board I’d absolutely endorse those three. But nothing happens without action. You can be in the right place at the right time and recognise the trend or the opportunity. But like last week’s post said, you have to press the start button. You have to take action.
So let me ask you a question. Do you feel lucky? Has luck played a significant part in your success – and how important is ‘plain, dumb luck’ in business? Or can you now look back with 20/20 hindsight and realise that you missed a golden opportunity? You were in the right place at the right time: you just didn’t recognise it.
As always I’ll be fascinated to hear your answers…