Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does luck determine your success?

I am currently reading the book "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell (author of "Blink" and "The Tipping Point.") Gladwell takes a look into the lives of successful people such as Bill Gates and The Beatles and identifies why these people have had wild success in their careers. He explores the idea that each of these individuals have grown up in an environment with opportunities that no one else has had, thus making them inevitably successful.

To give you an idea of what this looks like, let's take a quick look into the childhood of Bill Gates:
"Opportunity number one was that Gates got sent to Lakeside. How many high schools in the world had access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968? Opportunity number two was that the mothers of Lakeside had enough money to pay for the school's computer fees. Number three was that, when that money ran out, one of the parents happened to work at C-Cubed, which happened to need someone to check its code on the weekends, and which also happened not to care if weekends turned into weeknights. Number four was that Gates just happened to find out about ISI, and ISI just happened to need someone to work on its payroll software..."
The story continues to explore several other "opportunities" that were presented to Gates that eventually led to his multi-billion dollar success. Gladwell continues to reiterate throughout the book that successful people do not simply "rise from nothing" yet are handed opportunity after opportunity and continue to persue them (sometimes blindly) until they have eventually achieved their success. As I am reading this, it raises the question of: does pure luck exist? Are some people simply "luckier" and dealt better cards than others in life, thus leading to their success?

I have a viewpoint on this but I am curious to hear from you first. Feel free to comment or share your ideas at


  1. I forget the exact wording on this, but I once heard the saying that we make our own luck.

    Let's take two people. One person sits on a coach all day long. He's got a wealthy father, so he thinks, "Hey, I don't have to do anything." So he sits there all day. He might be lucky in the sense that he got things handed to him, but not lucky in the sense that he will be nothing in his life.

    Second person, growing up in a lower class family. All he's ever wanted to do was become a minister. He's constantly reading the bible, writing about the bible, going to networking events, talking with ministers. One day, the kid starts talking to this guy who is very interested in what he's trying to do. They exchange phone numbers. 20 years later, with that older man's help and financial backing, person number two is running a giant church.

    That older man is person number 1's father. Was person number 1 lucky, or person number 2?

    And was that luck, or did he create an opportunity for luck. In other words, did he create his own luck.

  2. One of my favorite quotes is "luck is when preparation meets opportunity." I would suggest this relates directly to Gladwell's 10,000 hours theory later in the book. Hope all is well!