Why chance events shape our luck and our fate and why it’s better to accept it.

What’s the secret sauce of success? It’s a painful question to answer especially when people don’t want to listen and have their own predilections over what constitutes true success and also difficult to gulp when one’s going through a rough patch.

We’ve been through the routine too many times, our parents lamely suggesting hard-work is the source of success. We have peer pressure to do somethings or attend a course , just because everyone does it we follow the same. Then when some do succeed in the venture, we feel let down.

As Malcolm Gladwell point out in his book Outliers, ” We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there ‘s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.”

In his book he points out several instances of talent being supported by extraordinary events of opportunity. There’s a certain luck or chance factor involved in any outcome one takes. To divorce randomness from these events would be tantamount intellectual dishonesty.  But humans like to be seen as rational even if they assign reasons for an event to be irrationally rational. The basic human tendency is to give credit to one’s talent for all the success achieved and not factoring luck in the sequence of events leading to the outcome. On the other hand, people are quick to blame bad luck for any events going against the tide and causing failure.

Let’s take the example of Robert de Nero, and how luck played an important role in his appearance in Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus , the Godfather.As Robert H Frank writes in Success and Luck-Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy: ‘Studio executives…wanted to cast Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, or Ryan O’Neal to play Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Coppola, however, wanted an unknown actor, someone who actually looked like a Sicilian.’

Writes Frank, “In Puzo’s novel, Vito Corleone was the central character. But Vito’s youngest son Michael is clearly the protagonist in Coppola’s adaptation. Pacino, who had previously appeared in only two minor films, thus landed what turned out be the most important role in what many critics have called the best film ever made. Those who believe that talent and hard work inevitably triumph might argue that because Pacino was relatively young at the time, his skills would have eventually made him successful even if he hadn’t landed the Michael Corleone role. But there are many thousands of highly talented actors who just never get the right opportunity to demonstrate their skill.”

What’s never discussed or admitted that people were indeed lucky. As Frank writes: “It is almost easy to create a narrative after the fact that portrays such outcomes as having been inevitable. Yet every event is the outcome off a complex interwoven sequence of steps, each of which depends on those preceding it. If any of those earlier steps had been different, the entire trajectory would almost surely be different, too.”

That’s the point. If just few standard qualities were enough like hard work and intelligence were enough we wouldn’t have hordes of people on unemployment exchanges nor would we have failed entrepreneurs. It’s a very important fact to understand that being at the right place at the right time and that circumstances also need to be conducive for success to be achieved. Coming to Indian e-commerce  story, we all must have heard about FlipKart and Snapdeal as stalwarts in e-commerce segment. But before them we had indiaplaza which was the first mover in this space and later lost its way and was shuttered down due to adverse circumstances.

As per this LiveMint story, “It is not so much the past as the present that bothers him. Where he is all by himself, doing whatever little he can because no one finds value in what he did at Indiaplaza. Because he is a failure. “It is a big problem,” Vaitheeswaran says. “I don’t think entrepreneurs ever fail. I think companies fail. We have to differentiate. India lacks that culture. Here, the entrepreneurs are closely associated as the face of their company, that the company’s success or failure is the success or failure of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs always succeed because the experience of founding a company, growing it to a certain stage, building products, technologies, building processes, getting your first customer, raising funds, building a brand… that’s skill, right? Those experiences are invaluable. If I was in Silicon Valley and something like this had happened, I would be overwhelmed by people looking to hire me. This is an important culture that’s lacking in India. Nine out of 10 companies fail, which means more start-ups close than succeed. Are all these people failing? Of course not, they are all succeeding.”

What India plaza encountered was impatience of investors who wanted quick return on their capital invested. This may be due to risk avoidance after the Lehman crisis. If investors in snapdeal and flipkart were to exhibit such capriciousness in their investment, we would have seen them being hauled over the coals for a cash-burn model. Sheer circumstances cause companies to flourish and some to shut shop.

Long story short, the examples can go on and on. It’s better we accept that there are extraordinary opportunities at work causing success apart from intelligence, diligence and business sense. Only then the picture will become clear.






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