There’s a great story out there about luck that goes something like this…
A man kept praying to God to win the lottery. That week he found a dollar on the street and he donated it to charity to show God he is worthy. The lottery came and went and he didn’t win. So the next week he prayed again, “Please God, let me win the lottery.” He found an extra dollar in his wallet, and decided to donate it to charity. Again, the lottery came and went. The third week, he prayed harder “Oh wonderful God, I will feed the hungry and save the whales, just please let me win the lottery.” That week some strange man approached him on the streets and handed him a dollar and again the man donated it to charity. The lottery numbers were drawn, and the man did not win.
The next week the man was ready to give up, he prayed again. “God, I have prayed and been good. Why have I not won the lottery?” To his amazement, a booming reply came from on high: “For heavens sake, go buy a ticket.”
So what does all this really have to do with luck? Perhaps it drives home the fact that luck can only be influenced by prudent actions, and not by thoughtful prayers or (even worse) other types of superstitions (crossed fingers, black cats, walking under ladders, etc.)
So how can luck be influenced? In the case of the man who prayed to win but didn’t buy lottery tickets, the answer is simple; go buy a ticket or two. For the rest of us, it’s actually not that hard either.
In his classic book on luck written by Nicholas Rescher, appropriately titled “Luck”, there is one cardinal rule: Act prudently.
And by that, Rescher means “do what you reasonably can do to enhance the opportunities for good luck and diminish the prospects for bad. All the usual principles of sensible care come into operation here: Avoid needless risks. Don’t push your luck. Don’t run risks out of proportion to the potential benefits and count on luck to save the day for you. And – contrariwise – don’t refrain from taking properly calculated risks. Don’t refrain from doing sensible things that can put you in luck’s way.”
The last action – don’t refrain from taking properly calculated risks might be the most important. What it means is simple: Act! As Rescher puts it; “Virtually any human enterprise is subject to the risk of failure, mishap or disappointment. Nevertheless, the old precept holds true: Faint heart ne’er won fair lady. One must resist the call of laziness or the fear of failure.”
Here’s the takeaway: While luck cannot be influenced by superstitious rituals or symbols, it can be influenced through sensible actions. Be prudent–don’t take unnecessary risks–but most important, act when the time is right!
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group – a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.