What's luck got to do with it?

Do other people seem to get all the breaks? Well, you should be so lucky. But you'll have to put yourself in the way of opportunity: get out of your routine, talk to people, share your ideas - and persevere. Fortune smiles on the brave, says sporting Dave Waller.

In business, the pragmatist trumps the spiritualist. Sales graphs beat astrological charts, and listening to your customers will serve your bottom line better than an earful of Buddhist chants or whale-song. Yet there is one wholly irrational underlying force that even the most successful leaders are all too happy to credit - at least, when it comes to discussing their own achievements. It's luck.

Speaking to Britain's top business people about their careers, it's amazing how often the word crops up. From Sir Michael Bishop to Sir Ronald Cohen, Luke Johnson to Digby Jones, countless leaders have appeared on the pages of MT giving due credit to this unseen power. Even Bill Gates puts luck up there with his tech brain and canny sense of timing. Yet you'll hardly find luck on the average MBA syllabus.

A major problem with luck is that it's a tricky thing to pin down. For one, it is often apparent only in hindsight. You earn your first million, and only then do you backtrack and work out what happened to enable it to come off in the first place. In retrospect, with so many variables at play in personal lives, careers, businesses, trends and markets, the fact that you ever reached the right place at the right time to achieve what you did can start to seem dizzyingly improbable. Especially when there are countless other people out there vying for the same thing: what physicists and philosophers call the 'self-sampling assumption'. Hence the easy answer: it was down to luck.

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