Success: It is not luck, it is Return on Luck

Last week, I listened to Jim Collins at the Growth Summit in Barcelona.  He shared 4 hours with us via video.

There were three concepts that he shared with us that really struck a chord with me.  Today I wanted to put down my thoughts about the final concept that Jim shared:  Return on Luck.

Are successful people luckier?

Do successful people, companies have more luck than unsuccessful people or companies?  Jim looked at the data.

A luck event is one that meets 3 criteria:

  1. not predictable
  2. has consequences
  3. outside of my control
Jim and his team looked at the history of successful and unsuccessful companies and identified every luck event that had occurred.  They found no difference in the rate of occurrence of luck events in the successful or unsuccessful companies.
Successful people are not luckier.
Jim and his team did find something important.  There is a big difference between successful and unsuccessful companies and people in what happens next.  The luck event happens… then what?  You meet the girl of your dreams and say “Nice to meet you” or you say “I want a coffee, will you join me?”  You meet a key person in the company you dream of working for… what do you do with this moment?
When something lucky happens in your life, do you use it?  Are you prepared for the luck events in your life?
The difference between success and non-success comes in how the luck event is used.  Jim calls this Return on Luck.
Return on Luck
Three years ago, I was in a session at IESE with 6 top Venture Capital gurus from USA and UK.  We were 35 people in the room including faculty and people from different MBA programs.  The session was informal and giving me and the others a chance to get to know the lives and ups and downs of these key VCs.  The session ran long.  At 3:15pm, 20 of the MBA students stood up and said “we need to go to class”.  This is true.  They are required to go to class.  But as I sat and watched them file out of the session I asked myself how many of these people were 2 meters away from the person who could make their dream happen?  …and they walked away.  Zero Return on Luck.
How is your Return on Luck?  How can I be better prepared to not walk away from my next luck event?

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For Success, you only need 2 out of 3 of…

You only need to choose 2 out of 3 for success:

  • Be like-able
  • Do great work
  • Deliver on time
If you are like-able and deliver on time, people will come back to you.  If you do great work, and deliver on time you will make it.  If you do great work, and are like-able, people will forgive many things.  Pick 2 out of 3 for success.

And 4 more wise statements from Neil Gaiman.

  • “There is luck, and it helps” 
  • “The old rules are crumbling and nobody knows the new rules”
  • “If you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone that is wise and just do it like they would.”
  • “Make Good Art.”

Interviewed by Augere

I was recently interviewed by Augere, one of the worlds leading coach development organisations.  They conduct an anual review of the state of leadership in Spain and Latin America.

The interview (in pdf) is available in english here; y en castellano aqui.

Some of our discussion:
– do you agree that work related stress is bigger problem in Spain?
– are there some basic tips for persuasive communications?
– what is an entrepreneur?
– what lessons have you learnt as an entrepreneur?

Have a great week.

Interview: Manel Baucells, Author of "Engineering Happiness"

Manel Baucells was the favourite Professor amongst students when I did my MBA at IESE Business School.  He taught Decision Analysis.  There are certain types of situation under which humans will take poor (rational) decisions.  We study this subject so that we can reduce the likelihood that we will take similar poor decisions under similar situations.  Examples of situations that cause poor decisions are sunk costs, loss aversion, prediction of low frequency events.

Manel’s new book “Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Lifehas just arrived to my Kindle.  I asked him to answer a few questions about the book, and about how a Microsoft Excel geek could end up at the fluffy end of psychology…  writing about happiness 😉

Interview with Manel Baucells

Engineering Happiness,
by Manel Baucells


What most surprised you in learning about happiness?
How much happiness depends on our attitudes, rather than on external circumstances.

What led you to write the book?
As professors, our audience are the students that attend our lectures and the colleagues that read our academic papers. There is a moment in our careers that we want to expand our audience, and publish a book for a broad audience. It is critical to choose a time that is not too early in one’s career, and ideas are not yet mature; or too late. Rakesh and I felt that this is a good time in our careers to write a book of this characteristics.

Who will benefit from reading the book?
Any one interested in being happier, or readers of popular science books. I feel that the audience for non-fiction, research based books is expanding. This increase is due, no doubt, to the growing quality and relevance of the research done in the social sciences.

What are the 3 most damaging things people do that reduce happiness?
The fundamental starting point of the book is that happiness equals reality minus expectations. There are three key things one needs to understand:

  • The first is that expectations shift. The moment one increases his or her living standards, one get adapted quite soon, and going back down is very painful. 
  • The second is that our happiness is greatly influenced by how we compare with our peers, our comparison group. 
  • The third is that happiness can be engineered by using a “less to more” approach. Always start low, and then increase. 

What 3 things have you changed in your own life since writing the book?
Managing expectations better, create less to more (crescendo) patterns, and engage in activities that accumulate.

The book is accessible for anyone interested in the latest science on the field of human happiness: Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life.


Have you read the book?  Did you have Manel as a professor?  What are your thoughts about the concept of mathematically measuring and improving “happiness”?

10 Commandments for Business Development from Goldman Sachs

John Whitehead, co-head of Goldman Sachs in the 1970s, wrote the following 10 commandments that guided their business development efforts:

  1. Don’t waste your time going after business you don’t really want.
  2. The boss usually decides— not the assistant treasurer. Do you know the boss?
  3. It is just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
  4. You never learn anything when you’re talking.
  5. The client’s objective is more important than yours.
  6. The respect of one person is worth more than an acquaintance with 100 people.
  7. When there’s business to be found, go out and get it!
  8. Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?
  9. There’s nothing worse than an unhappy client.
  10. If you get the business, it’s up to you to see that it’s well-handled.
Good list.  What do you think?

I came across this list thanks to Mark Graham’s post over at The Entrepreneurs’ Organisation blog.

Leadership = Do the Next Right Thing

Michael asks “What should you do when you don’t know what to do?”  In the times when he felt lost, out of his depth, uncertain, unsure whether he was the right person in the role…  All the great moments of self-doubt that I know I share…

His mentor’s answer?

“Do the next right thing.”

The full post at Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog: “What to do when you don’t know what to do“.  I think it goes further than that.  This is not a recipe for rare moments of doubt.  This is a powerful framing of leadership.

There is a time for Managers, and a time for Leaders

When a team is winning, the captain needs to be a manager.  When the team is losing 3-1 at half time, the captain needs to be a leader.  Doing the same but better is going to lead to a 6-2 final score.  The team has to do something different.  This is when the captain must lead.

However, when leadership is made into something too big, action paralysis sets in.  Self-doubt assails the leader and leads to delay.  Leadership needs focus.

Leadership is “Do the Next Right Thing”

Do.  Action.  Leadership is about action.  Nothing changes without taking action.  Knowing what to do but not doing anything is the same as not knowing what to do.

The Next.  The professional knows where he is going, but never allows his mind to go beyond the next step.  He knows that this will lead to a feeling of overwhelm and the little voice inside his mind will tell him to stop.  It is only by keeping extreme focus on the Next that action is possible and sustainable.  The amateur takes on too big a goal.  He lives in a cycle of building frustration leading to a moment where he decides he will act.  He now sets a massive goal for himself and for a day or two manages to exert maximum effort towards this overly ambitious goal.  Three days later he realises how much work is still left and drops back into a depressed state and stops the action towards the goal.

Right.  What is necessary.  What is correct.  What fits with your values and effectively moves you in the direction of your overall goals. Not what others think you should do.  Not what you think others would expect of you.  Not what you parents want.  Not what your friends want.  It is what you feel is right.

Thing.  Specific.

Do. The Next.  Right.  Thing.

“I will act now.”

The great failures do not come from a lack of strategy, or a lack of knowledge about where you would like to get to.  Few people wake up in the morning with a goal of being unhappy and frustrated.
True failure is lack of disciplined action.  This is not the failure of not achieving a goal, not winning a game…  but the hideous failure of having left a life unlived.

“You only need 20 seconds of courage in a life”.  Where are my 20 seconds?  How many do I have left?

Productivity, Using 5 minute gaps

I remember watching the “Last Lecture” of Professor Randy Pausch (video embedded below).  One of his messages was “show me your calendar and I will show you where you are wasting time”.

He spoke of one difference between productive and non-productive people:  How you use the small gaps.


Using the 5 Minute Gaps


The productive people have learnt to make good use of the 5, 10, 15 minute gaps in their schedule.

The non-productive people go and have a coffee, say “what can I really get done in 5 minutes, I’ll do it later when I have 2 hours.”

Productive people get all the admin tasks out of the way in the little gaps and then can do big, important projects in their 2 hour gaps.

Non-productive people wait for the 2 hour gap to do all the admin, and then are too tired to get started on the big, important projects.

Launching The “Nuclear” Productivity Option

First, this morning I started my day in a new way.  I was so frustrated from my last week of low productivity that I went for the nuclear option today.  Zero connectivity before midday.  No internet, no phone, no messages – Nothing.

I went down to starbucks and closed down all programs except my word processor, and I wrote.  Then when I ran out of writing inspiration, I read a book.

Second, I decided to do 1 phone call on my to-do list every 5 minute gap.

I got a lot more done today.

I aim to keep this going…  Let’s see where I get over the next 7 days 😉

Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
If you haven’t seen this, watch it.



How do you react when productivity feels low?  What gets you going?  Any ideas for my week of getting Productive again?