Entrepreneurs, myself included, love to tell themselves a lie about hard work. You convince yourself that today you must wake up and crush that to do list. You have to, you’ve been putting stuff off. Get productive, goddamnit!
Hard work is an essential part of any business success story, but if you look back on the big turning points in your career you’ll probably realize that, like me, it was “luck” or some kind of X Factor that really made the difference.
Bear with me, because if you’ve defined your life with a narrative of Blood, Sweat and Tears this idea isn’t going to feel good… initially. But when you find out how the most successful entrepreneurs create their lucky breaks, you might just un-furrow that brow.
My career has been a series of nexus points – moments in time when everything suddenly changed and I rocketed to the next level. The change always came from outside me, felt an awful lot like serendipitous synchronicity and involved other people.
It began when, as a clueless young adult, I was researching NLP. I had tapped my local library dry and was looking for more. More than anything, I wanted community. So I reached out to the editor of NLP Weekly magazine in a simple email asking “Have you ever considered creating a community, online, to accompany your popular website?”
His reply: “Would you like to build it for us?”
I had never had contact with this guy. Ever. He had no clue who I was or whether I could be trusted. And he threw down that offer. Just like that.
Over the next few months we created the NLPWeekly Forums, which grew into the largest community of NLP Practitioners in the world. I would link you, but this is ancient history – the site was sold (and subsequently shut down) a long time ago.
At it’s peak, we had thousands of active members and became the number one website in the world for all things NLP – providing advice to practitioners all over. Our casual reviews of various NLP Trainings would make or break those training companies!
My volunteer position at NLP Weekly (this was back in the old days, where the internet was entirely “Free love for all!”) resulted in me writing over 4000 posts in the forum. It polished my rhetoric, forced me to master (and lead) my field and so, so much more.
It also gave me direct access to the most influential people in the field. I was invited to sit on the executive committee of the Australian Board of NLP. I corresponded with luminaries around the globe.
Because I emailed a guy and asked him if he had thought of creating a forum.
That one email opened up a gateway to my entire career and defined my life in the process. If I hadn’t sent it, this website wouldn’t exist and you wouldn’t be reading this article.
This is just one story. I’m blessed, because my career has consisted of a whole string of them – that I won’t go into now. I’ve actually hesitated to publish this article, because I wasn’t sure that my experience would mirror yours. However, after years of interviewing clients and chatting with some of my crazy-smart friends, I’ve discovered that it’s everyone’s little secret.
We all get lucky. You work hard for six months on some project, then one phone call happens about something totally different… and your business and life changes massively (for the better) for the next five years!
So if it’s luck, how on earth can you manufacture it?
Good question. The whole point of lucky breaks is that you can’t work your way toward them. There’s no to-do list that’ll directly result in something miraculous. Understanding why is the point: Having plans that are too fixed actually hurts your luck.
When you lock in a business plan and reject any deviation from it, forcing yourself to focus on nothing else, you prevent luck from unfolding. If I had relentlessly committed to my plans back then, I’d probably be working with addicts back in New Zealand, instead of entrepreneurs in New York.
So the first pseudo-step in manufacturing your own luck is to not take plans (and yourself) so damn seriously. In practice, this really means remaining curious about alternatives. A truly laser focused entrepreneur wouldn’t let himself send that email, because it wasn’t an action that supported by “business plan” at the time. My lack of focus and insatiable curiosity made room for a lucky break of epic proportions.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss this advice. A lot of people believe they’re already doing this; that they’re staying curious and open to the possibilities. It’s much harder to do than it sounds, especially as you become psychologically invested in upholding your businesses “status quo” and sticking to the plan.
This tendency to get less and less curious over time is an epidemic in business culture. At the highest levels of the corporate world, it’s The Innovator’s Dilemma; the lack of lateral thinking that results in every big business eventually falling behind when some agile non-competitor comes out of nowhere to destroy them. Think Microsoft, focusing on PC market share and never getting curious about cell phones.
So take this seriously. The smartest minds in the world’s most innovative companies still struggle with this, so don’t underestimate the challenge.
Stay curious. Be open to the peripheries, where people and ideas can spring out of nowhere and change the game. Reach out, engage, send emails and more. Give yourself permission to not always begin every action with an end in mind.
Most of all, allow your curiosity to connect you with smart people. The good kind. People are lighting rods for lucky breaks; the smarter and more karmically enlightened, the better.
Notice that I didn’t say, “Successful People”. The goal isn’t to be a social climber making a bee line to the richest person in the room. Rich isn’t always an indicator for smarts or karma. Beside, you’ll find more lucky breaks with the current generation of up-and-comers than the already-made-it folks.
So stay curious. And say “yes” to whatever someone offers you, when you’re 100% sure you can deliver and you know you’ll learn something. Eventually you may run into the first world problem of saying “yes” a few times too many. However if you re-read the bolded sentence you’ll see that it, as a rule, contains all the safety values you need.
There are only two types of entrepreneur: Those who create their own luck and those who don’t. The latter group are obsessed with fundamentalist commitment to well laid plans, with zero room for serendipitous and lateral progress. It doesn’t mean they won’t be successful, but they’ll sure as hell work five times harder for it.
Lucky entrepreneurs live in a world where we (the masses) look back at their history and say “luck has nothing to do with it” – we judge them self made, street smart and savvy. But they know, deep down, that it was being in the right place at the right time.
The place’s name is Curiosity and the time is always Now. Can you get yourself there?