Feeling Lucky?

Matt Harvey, Stanford University November 11, 2011

“Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets good planning.” This is how entrepreneur Thomas Edison viewed the role of luck in one’s life and work. But no two people see luck in quite the same way. Each person’s life experiences, beliefs and expectations mingle together to create a willingness, or refusal, to place much stock in the idea of luck. For example, it’s hard to image ol’ Thomas Alva religiously playing the lottery each week — he was probably too busy getting things done.

In a recent essay for the New York Times, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hanson discuss what luck is really about in successful entrepreneurial enterprises. Having completed a nine-year research study on such organizations, Collins and Hanson do not see luck as abstract occurrences, but as identifiable events. Give the article a read to see how companies like Microsoft and Progressive Insurance handled these luck events, and eventually leveraged them to create ROL — return on luck.

Here are some technology business leaders, who recently visited the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders seminar at Stanford, sharing their opinions on the role they hold for luck and the unknown in startups and product development.

Getting Rid of Luck

“Your pursuit should always be to remove the unknown from the equation,” says The Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg. In this clip, Friedberg shares why this is a fundamental premise in building a successful venture. He also teases apart the different roles that risk and uncertainty play in fully understanding a business.

Luck is Committing to Big Bets

Evernote CEO Phil Libin explains how Evernote creates a great deal of luck by making big bets on which platforms to support. In this amusing and insightful anecdote, Libin tells how Evernote developed their application to work on Apple’s iPad by using cardboard cutouts of the device.

Doing What’s Right Creates Luck

According to Trip Adler, the founder of Scribd, luck is not what made the launch of his company successful. “It wasn’t luck, we were just doing things right,” says Adler. Rather than waiting for good fortune, Adler definitely aligns with the Edison approach to creating your own good fortune. Enjoy this video on eCorner to watch Adler explain how luck comes to any entrepreneur who works hard and remains persistent in trying to reach his or her goal.