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“Give Me Lucky Generals”


Napoleon Bonaparte was criticised for winning battles simply because of luck.

He famously retorted: “I’d rather have lucky generals than good ones.

More than a hundred years later, Eisenhower reaffirmed this point by saying: “I’d rather have a lucky general than a smart general. They win battles.”

It turns out that this quote probably did not originate with Napoleon.

But it raises an interesting question.

We all know at least one colleague who “always seems to land on their feet”, for whom “things seem to go well with minimum effort”, who is lucky because they have “easy” stakeholders  . . . . and so, on (you know who I am talking about 😉 )

A few thoughts on this topic collided in my head this week.

A serendipitous Google search for something else turned up an interesting article on “luck” in business in the London Daily Telegraph 

There is a body of evidence that suggests that luck exists or, more precisely, that having an openness to chance correlates directly to being successful and lucky in life.

The article also references a book that I shall be reading The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind” by Richard Wiseman.

It seems there are some interesting inferences that may help us;

  • An undue emphasis on the rational side of a situation tends to lead to unlucky outcomes and missed opportunities. Maybe high empathy correlates to more “lucky” outcomes.
  • “Lucky people” tend to turn misfortune to their advantage. They have a resilient attitude to setbacks, which makes them stronger and more opportunistic.
  • “Lucky people” are invariably busy people. They are doers, not pontificators. They are Steve Jobs’ “Thinkers AND Doers”.

The implication is that we should avoid fixating too much on making the right (i.e. rational) decision, but to back our hunches and trust our intuition. I am a little wary of this in these days of data-driven decision making, but a healthy balance makes a lot of sense due to the well observed risks of “data bias”.

It turns out that “unlucky people” tend to talk themselves out of an opportunity, to find a reason not to do something as opposed to taking a chance.

Of course, the KEY prerequisite for luck is action (or, as Woody Allen puts it, “80 per cent of success is showing up”).

Behavioural psychologists divide the world into two groups, those with an internal locus of control and those with an external locus of control. The latter think that they are beholden to events, that the world “happens to them” – the former think that they can shape events, that “they happen to the world”. This group believes you make your own luck and, simply by subscribing to this belief, they probably do.

Gary Player, the famous golfer, is attributed with two great quotes on the topic;

  • “The harder I practice, the luckier I get”.
  • “We create success or failure on the course primarily by our thoughts.”

Personally, I prefer the Henry Ford version of that latter, Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.

So, you may ask, why am I banging on about this?

In attempting to address complex business problems at the intersection of people, human behavior, process, technology and data, I am convinced we need to practice hard to get lucky.

For each of these major business challenges or end-to-end process cycles we are trying to orchestrate an effective response to, we need to commit to the hard yards of understanding these 6 key questions;

  • Do we really understand the WHY?
  • Do we really understand the WHO?
  • Do we really understand the WHAT?
  • Do we really understand the HOW?
  • Do we really understand the WHEN?
  • Do we really understand the HUMAN ELEMENT?

If we work hard at these, we may just create our own “luck”.

I turns out that famous sayings rarely originate from the person famed with the utterance.

But whoever said it,

“The harder I practice, the luckier I get” is a great motto to live by to become one of the famed “lucky generals”.

The Telegraph article referenced above is here but you may need to register to read the full content.

Thanks for reading . . .