How much does luck play into the formula of success?

There are countless sources of information that are available detailing the ‘7 steps to this’ and the ‘Top 10 ways to win at that’, but what if most cases of success was just a case of blind luck?

In the world of international rugby the difference between the best team in the world and the 5th best team in the world is marginal. Sure a bit of conditioning and fitness may play a role in the outcome of a game, but when teams like the Springboks and the All Blacks meet – isn’t the outcome very much based on the flip of a coin? If a Supersport television producer doesn’t show video evidence of an All Black infringement on the stadium big screen five minutes before time, and the resulting successful penalty kick wasn’t awarded, the game would have been won by the All Blacks. No amount of skill and training on the part of the Springboks could have changed that.

People don’t like to think that luck plays a major role in success. We are creatures that believe we can detect patterns. We love the idea that science gives us the knowledge to control our world, mathematics is the language of our reality. But in fact we are largely blind as to how the world really works. There are far more things that we don’t understand than those that we claim we do. You may have enjoyed reading that self help book which you thought gave you a couple of pearls of wisdom that brought you some success, but most probably you just got lucky.

Leonard Mlodinow wrote a great book about this theory of randomness called The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. Here he is sharing the main ideas in this presentation:

So if randomness and luck play such a huge role in the eventual success of your effort, what are you to do? Well, just pitch up and do your best. Put in the effort and make sure that you participate to the best of your ability, but the eventual outcome of your blood sweat and tears is pretty much left in the arms of the gods. The trick is to give it a full on go, but don’t get to bleak when things don’t go your way.