11.04.2011

What's Luck Got to Do With It


No, this is not a post about Stanford quarterback and poster boy Andrew Luck. It's about what luck has to do with success in life. As much as it pains me to say this, as I adore the Oakland A's, this Business Week article is right: more than statistical analysis, the A's succeeded earlier last decade because of a confluence of homegrown talent (notably young stud pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito) and then flopped later last decade because of a big bet on third baseman Eric Chavez (who ended up being plagued by one physical ailment after another). For all the A's front office did to stay one step ahead of its competitors by zigging when others zag (first by buying up undervalued players with atypical baseball bodies and high on-base percentage, and then, when that arbitrage opportunity vanished, by focusing on team defense), success and failure had to do with good timing and unforeseen injuries.

This New York Times article, co-written by Jim Collins, the author of one of my all-time favorite business books, "Good to Great," talks about the role of luck in business, and makes the case that luck's impact is asymmetrical: good luck can be helpful but bad luck can be disastrous. Hence, successful people manage luck by being sufficiently ready to capitalize on the upside of good luck and being sufficiently prepared to absorb the downside of bad luck.

"Luck" is somewhat of a bad word in Christian circles, as we are trained to believe that there is no such thing, since God is in control of all things. But if you slightly alter the meaning of the word to mean "things beyond our control," I think it is useful to consider how to deal with luck in life. And, in this regard, I think Collins' takeaway is on point. Because we believe God is certainly in control and we are certainly not, there is wisdom in being braced for "luck" to enter into our lives, whether good or bad. It is proper to be humble when good luck comes our way to not think ourselves too responsible for it, and when bad luck comes our way to not think ourselves somehow exempt from its consequences.

The Christian may have a different take on what "luck" means, and on what "success" means. But Collins' message has some use to us: who knows when we will find luck, but what we can do is prepare to make the most of the good kind and to absorb the impact of the bad kind. As for me, I'd be lost if luck was everything, capricious as it is; I feel more grounded knowing that "luck" is, like all other things, under the control of One who I know.

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