What is Luck and why has Luck remained a Fuzzy concept?
From the perspective of scientific inquiry, luck has remained as a fuzzy concept. Things are changing and hopefully, within the next few years, we will have a paradigm shift in understanding the luck mechanics using neuroscience, computational mechanics, psychology and Artificial Intuition. Let me first tell you the story of six blind men and the elephant.
The parable of the “six blind men and the elephant” first originated in Rigveda, one of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism. A group of blind men who have never seen or interacted with an elephant, touch, perceive and learn, conceptualize and predict what the various parts of the foreign object may be. They articulate each part as a spear, snake, a manual fan type object, a pillar and a soft wall. As they perceive a different part of the elephant body and are convinced about the accuracy of their perception, they are in a complete disagreement on what an elephant looks like to each of them. This story clearly outlines that humans have a tendency to project their partial experiences as the whole truth, ignoring other people’s partial experiences, and many times completing ignoring the whole truth. It may take the whole group to arrive at a holistic common understanding that the object of their fancy is an animal with long teeth, pillar like legs, large surface area and a tail. Alternatively, it may take one person to accumulate their partial experiences into a coherent and integrated whole over time. Isn’t learning similar to the above process of sustained discovery over a period of time when one if focused ?
The concept of Luck and discussions around it can be defined using the same parable. People who observe lucky people perceive them achieving effortless outcomes or even unstated outcomes. Ask some lucky people and they claim to have premonition through hunches (introspective feelings) which guides them to take lucky actions. Ask researchers and scientific philosophers like Richard Wiseman, the author of the book “The Luck Factor” and he will claim that lucky people are positive people who keep an open mind and look for opportunities (affordances) in the opportunity space. Sadly enough, science can be sold as semantics, but any scientific inquiry has to pass the test of critical analysis, double-blind tests and repeat-ability. Unfortunately, as we cannot create an elephant just by understanding it’s external characteristics, similarly we cannot understand luck using the partial explanation provided by different philosophers as of now. As a luck researcher who has spend my whole life understanding the neural, cognitive and behavioral aspects of luck, I hope to provide a fuzzy picture of the full elephant in this post.
Luck plays a crucial and significant role in Life, Mate Recognition, Investing and even Startup Success. Talent, Skills and hard work are only peripheral factors. Based on our detailed empirical framework around Luck Re-engineering developed over the last two decades, we have a repeatable process of improving Luck. Success in any domain is an emergent phenomenon which occurs at the cusp of skill, passion, hard work and luck using which we capitalize on the affordances (possibilities) existing in the environment. Before discussing the crucial role Luck plays in Startup Success, let us define Luck in a new way.
A Background Story
First, a little background information may help and you can jump to the next parts if this may be of much interest. I was always unlucky and found myself in the wrong place at the right time. Soon enough, due to my solitary meditative practices and somewhat bizarre journey, my peripheral awareness around my internal patterns increased. Due to the unique situations in which I found myself, I soon realized that my perfectly timed, unlucky actions were causing undesirable outcomes. I also realized that I was an expert in being “Unlucky”. Being a “reverse engineer”, I started a decade long work around understanding of my “Intuitive Expertise” around Luck. Starting with intuitive expertise, I navigated over to the neuro-psychological basis of selection and usage of affordances by agents in their environment. As I wrote elsewhere, our brain-mind apparatus runs on an extremely sophisticated multi-layered processes. If we can imagine a tower structure, at the bottom are our instincts, in the middle is intuition and on top are insights. While instinctively we are programmed with perfect timing of our decisions, we learn our intuitive patterns from our culture and family of origin. It is here where our sense of unconscious timing goes wrong. Once I understood this concept and over many years, I was slowly able to change my intuitive sense of timing, slowing training it to take right decisions at the right time. Soon enough, I was becoming an expert in being Lucky on few occasions and then, things took an exponential leap for me in every domain I found myself. I thereafter left a senior corporate level role to advise, consult and train my kindred spirits in various areas. Hopefully, this sets the context for this post and you can read more in an upcoming book “Luck Re-Engineering“.
What is Luck?
Luck is not Chance or Serendipity. Luck is not Intuition or Optimism. Luck does not have a proportional link with hard work. By working hard, we are improving the probability of Chance Success. Luck does not improve by Visualization, by keeping an Open Mind and by Trusting our Hunches. All these are observable and experiential phenomenon surrounding Luck. It is like explaining the external characteristics of an elephant without understanding the origin, inner working and the evolutionary forces that led to nature’s design of an elephant. Using an analogy here, if you start behaving like a rich person, you will not become rich. If you feel poor , but act rich, there is a great chance that you may go broke sooner than your peers.
I want to emphasize something here. Observable external behavior is not the cause of luck, it is the symptom of lucky internal mental patterns. Both lucky and unlucky mental patterns have a key component i.e. unconscious sense of timing which enables us to take unconscious decisions at the right or the wrong time. Decisions can go wrong due to quality of bad decisions as well as due to poor timing. Poor timing is both a construct of our surroundings and our interaction with the surroundings. Static surrounding environments can also create failure due to poor timing (the time at which we place our foot on stairs while we have missed the stairs below our feet). Dynamic environments are more wicked in which poor sense of timing can quickly get amplified (make the wrong joke with your boss, partner or a friend at the wrong time). As such, timing is about “unconscious situational awareness”. I emphasize the word “unconscious” as it is very difficult to be consciously aware of everything we are doing. However, our below consciousness processing a.k.a unconscious processing can process much higher bandwidth.
If your decisions lead you to failure very often, you can call yourself unlucky and vice versa. Both Unlucky and Lucky people acquired these mental patterns in early childhood from their family and cultural of origin. Those who struggle to achieve their outcomes are called Unlucky, while those who effortlessly achieve their outcomes are called Lucky. You may notice that both the patterns (Lucky and Unlucky) are a result on internal pattern recognition and decisions. Lucky and Unlucky people use Unconscious, Intuitive actions which create the results they experience. There is something happening inside of them which makes them Lucky.
Let me define Luck in my own way. Good Luck is an efficient way of effortlessly, right at the first time achieving an outcome equal or bigger than our expectation ceilings by taking incremental, intuitive and timely actions. Bad Luck is also an efficient way of effortlessly achieving undesirable outcomes. Efficiency, Unconscious Timing, Intuitive Expertise and Unconscious Decisions are the common denominator of Good Luck and Bad Luck.
Luck is Generated by Our Unconscious System
Luck is generated by our neural system and is the result of unconscious processes. As discussed in “Understanding our Unconscious Mind”, our unconscious is a system of right hemispheric, sub-cortical processes and is always optimizing some function automatically and mostly without our conscious awareness. Our unconscious system operates very fast and is interacting with our environment using our own perceptions and actions as explained in the “Predictive Coding Theory that is changing our understanding of the brain”
Optimization is the art and science of making things better. Nature is always optimizing everything around us and human evolution is a perfect test case for optimization. Natural selection is the process by which living things that are most well suited to their environments survive and reproduce. Take the example of the “Saguaro Cactus” plant. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California and survives under harsh heat conditions. The plant is able to extract and store water from a water devoid environment. As it stores water, it becomes an easy target for animals and it’s sharp thorns keeps animals at bay. This is a perfect example of a plant that has optimized the function of extracting and storing water followed by optimizing the function of avoiding being eaten.
My premise here is that our unconscious neural processes are an optimization mechanism and unconscious luck is a best case scenario of nature’s optimization at play. This Intuitive Unconscious Thought Theory (IUTT) proposes that all the thought processes, which enable one to set goals by making sense of, modeling, or making predictions of the experienced world, are unconscious. The mind has conscious awareness only of the outcome of those processes. This new definition of “unconscious thought” includes all neural processes of which we have no conscious awareness.
Historically, the term “unconscious” has had varied meanings. It was John A. Bargh, who proposed, in his NIH paper, that the term “unconscious” should mean the influences or effects of stimulus processing of which one is not aware and not the processing of stimuli of which one is not aware. “Unconscious” should refer to the process and not to the stimuli. In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins called nature the “blind watchmaker, the unconscious watchmaker,” because there was no conscious intentional guiding hand in producing the brilliantly intelligent designs of nature. The human mind represents the highest outcome of that design. The IUTT explains that conscious awareness is merely a narrow mirror, which reflects the outcome of unconscious thought processes produced by a blind watchmaker called intuition. With IUTT, “outcome” implies an awareness of both the results of a decision as well as a broad awareness of the reasons why the decision was made.
World Time and Mental Time
We have two time clocks one is the mental time that we intuitively feel when we feel the timing is right and the second is the world time, the external time benchmark by which live our life in a collaborative way. Many times, we have to do something in world time that our mental time does not agree with which creates a sense of internal resistance. Research has shown that mental time is the system level time which emerges due to the interaction of our multiple sub-personalities and multiple parts. For us to feel the timing is right, these parts need to work in coherence. The world time is super-imposed on us due to the cultural and family of origin experiences. A recent research study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that mental time is the result of many distinct neural systems tracking different timings working together. Research by Benjamin Libet has already proven that our unconscious systems make a decision and our conscious system simply follows the system decisions couple of seconds after the decision has been made.
It is my premise that for luck to work or our optimized neural systems to create the best case scenario, our mental time clock and world time clock needs to be synced with each other creating what we call is the perfect timing. Perfect timing creates an intersection of intuitively precise perception and intuitively precise action. As discussed elsewhere, our unconscious system works in a way so as to prepare for the partially observable and fully observable enviroment both temporally (unfolding of events over time) and spatially (seeing and experiencing something due to movement in space).
Luck, Patterns and Entropy
We can also say that Luck is a pattern. Patterns are omnipresent everywhere in nature, in our daily habits, in everything we do. Patterns are not chance events. Patterns have an anti-entropic quality. Anti-Entropy is a term associated with effects opposite that of entropy, namely order, and organization. If we observe life at a macro level, life is anti-entropic, it sustains and evolves in-spite of external forces trying to destroy it. Likewise, at the micro-level, our internal patterns are also anti-entropic. These patterns assist us in maintaining a pattern of perception and behaviour in constantly evolving circumstances or the environment.
Let us pause and reflect. We all have patterns, what are your patterns ?.
Do you usually succeed in achieving your aims or usually struggle? Both are patterns and both patterns create good luck or bad luck. Now, sometimes your existing success patterns may not help you succeed if the domain is completely foreign or extremely complex. Entrepreneurship, economics and everything that involves many interconnected elements are called complex systems.
Luck i.e the ability to achieve outcomes effortlessly over and over again inspite of varying circumstances is an anti-entropic property of our mental patterns. Luck is a repeatable pattern that one should be able to replicate, measure and improve. We tend to associate Luck with lottery winners or those who have unexpected windfall gains in life, but luck is much more than that. Let us assume someone won a lottery and seems to solve most of their problems in the short-term. I would not call them Lucky. These are chance events which cannot be replicated again easily. Only when a pattern repeats itself, can we call it luck. Serial Entrepreneurs become lucky provided their previous ventures have been successful or if they have had a pattern of creating last minute successes.
A more evolved form of Luck should be all pervading and repeatable pattern in our life where effortless achievement of our outcomes should be combined with joyful existence. I have successfully applied this to ventures in a private program named “Start Decelerator”. Anytime venture founders psychologically struggle but still achieve success, we do not rate them as lucky. We rate them successful, but the cost of success in such cases is very high i.e a lot of stress and struggle. As such, if you are psychologically, emotionally and financially struggling, the costs of starting up a venture outweighs the benefits. I regularly interact with a lot of entrepreneurs who privately wished that they could get a day job.
Do not become that Entrepreneur as it is very stressful.
Napoleon Bonaparte was a leader who used to lay significant emphasis on Luck and hiring people who were lucky. He was looking for a pattern in them. He was not looking for chance successes. Pattern based search was the key attribute in his selection of leaders. It is claimed that this avid recognition of successful patterns applied to different contexts in his life but responsible for his military successes. In an advanced forecasting method known as “Hyperforecasting”, we carefully and mostly unconsciously search for repeat patterns in entrepreneurs, economy, geopolitics and much more.
These pattern can be developed, but it takes a lot of time and effort and is similar to developing a skill. As I have learnt while applying this first to myself and then to many others I have coached, improving Luck leads to one experiencing a lot of psychological S-Curves (my term for embodied and psychological discomfort). Most of us simply build new mental patterns on top of existing defunct and sub-optimal mental patterns. The key is to learn how to get rid of the legacy negative mental patterns and then build new ones. The process of unlearning legacy sup-optimal patterns which are embedded in deeper layers is accompanied with pain and discomfort. The layered structure of our development, learning and even technology is discussed in this article “Instincts, Intuitions or Insights – Key Differences”.
Using an analogy, if a pump coupled with a motor is running slow as there is an internal braking effect of some sort, we can speed up the pump by coupling it with a more powerful motor. However, if we work on removing the braking effect, the motor will automatically run faster. Luck is similar to this analogy. Unless you believe in a super superstitious definition of luck, luck occurs at the converging point of unconscious timing, unconscious decisions and an environment which allows one to capitalize on the existing possibilities in the space.
What are the various components of Luck?
Luck has many components or dimensions. The subject of Luck has too much mumbo-jumbo around it and I am about to change this with an upcoming book “Luck Re-engineering“. Our Mental Model Innovation © program has experienced more than 90% success rate and I can claim that I have found the key components of improving Luck. I actually left a well-paying, senior level global role to start a venture around this concept.
As we discussed earlier, success is actually an emergent property of a multitude of factors, luck being the most important. Assume that we have multiple dimensions in which some dimensions embed the lower dimensions in them creating emergent loops. We are embedded in our environment and we are engulfed by the contexts in which we live our life. Our Mental Models i.e. patterns are responsible for search affordances (possibilities) in the environment. Even if we can search for affordances, it does not guarantee success in life. We also need our neuro-psychology to support us. Once it supports us, we intuitively and automatically take incremental actions where the cumulative impact of those micro-intuitive actions is very high. If we ask lucky or unlucky people how they act in situations and contexts, they tell us that they follow their urges, their hunches and their gut feelings. We also know that blindly following our gut feelings or hunches is recipe for disaster as they are prone to significant error.
Finally, if you observe someone who is lucky across time and space, you will observe a phenomenon that they are in the right place (or wrong place) at the right time, or they take decisions at the right time. Luck engages with the real world through time and space. Likewise, those who are unlucky or experience bad luck are at the wrong place at the right time. It all happens unconsciously without much conscious intervention from us. This spatiotemporal behavior is mostly unconscious and leads to good luck or bad luck.
Luck Factor in Startup Success
We need necessary and sufficient condition for a phenomenon to be described in a repeatable manner. Luck is a sufficient condition for success in any area of life, specifically, venture success. The necessary condition is met by hard work, skill development, and motivation to succeed. As we have already discussed above, Luck seems to be a passive process rather than an active process. We work very hard to offset areas where one is not lucky. As such, luck seems to about efficiency while achieving our goals. The more good luck we have, the less hard we have to work, the less we struggle in a given context. The dictionary meaning of luck also emphasizes the fact that luck happens by chance rather than by one’s actions, which we do not agree with based on recent research.In Venture success, one should pay good attention to what Bill Gross (of IdeaLab fame) says.
He was the original entrepreneur of the Dot Com Burst era without using dumping as a strategy. In a speech given by him, he outlined research which attributes Timing as a significant contributor to the success of startups.Related Post on Bill Gross: First Mover – Last Survivor. As we can see from the slide below, timing was the major factor (42%) in achieving startup success. Timing of chosing the venture concept in the right domain at the right time and the using timely execution.
As we can see, the research is already pointing to the fact that Timing is the most important factor in startup success. Timing is an aspect of unconscious decision-making and cannot be consciously improved. If you have ever timed to created success, you know how hard it is to do so. In the above “Luck Matrix”, we already have rightly timed decisions at the right place. Timing is not a static concept. Venture success is not about getting the timing of one activity right but the rest of it wrong.
Hard Work, Skill. Persistence are only peripheral to success. Luck is the major contributor to achieving Success in any area of Life.
Cumulative Accurate Timing is taking a series of small incrementally timed decisions to achieve success in any area. From opportunity recognition to Opportunity Execution, we must have developed a well trained intuitive timing bridge to achieve our outcomes. In the last two decades since I have immersed myself in this subject, one shocking thing became very clear. Everyone is born with the right timing. Our family and culture of origin inject significant errors in our timings. Finally, I was able to find the answers at the intersection of Intuitive Decision Making, Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology and Complex Systems.
Everyone is born with the right timing. Our family and culture of origin injects significant errors in our timings.
New Framework on Luck
Here is a new framework on Luck. The aim is not to provide a full methodology but a general overview so that one can understand Luck in a new way.Good Luck, as well as Bad Luck in ventures, is the cumulative impact of intuitively or unconsciously timed decisions across multiple stages of the ventures. We can make errors in Opportunity Recognition to Concept Development Stage and make more fatal errors in the Unconscious Execution Stage. You may also want to read this piece on “Money Glass Ceilings“. Even if one can fix the timing errors, if venture founders and entrepreneurs have glass ceilings on how much wealth they can create, they will be unable to scale the ventures. I also want to highlight the two approaches used to define Luck i.e., the Shotgun approach and the efficient luck Approach.
Shot Gun Approach to Luck
Shot Gun approach is used by those who do not understand luck and have a deep-rooted belief that failure is somehow the rite of passage for success. You will hear them saying that hard work can lead to success. Hard work does improve the chances of making it big, however, it takes a person through multiple iterations in which one of the iterations may or may not click. On this basis, hard work is an extremely inefficient and uncertain way of succeeding which has been over-hyped and glorified.
Hard work driven luck approach is akin to using a shotgun approach to see what sticks. If one had a choice between running more successful ventures (by saving time lost during failing) versus failing, failing and then succeeding by a stroke of chance, it is a no brainer that one will use the efficient method.
Efficient Approach to Luck
Luck is a construct and output of the right hemisphere processes called intuitive processes. Our intuitive spectrum is a large spectrum consisting of Intuitive Foresight, Intuitive Insight, and Intuitive Expertise. It seems that luck is also a function of all these three functions working together. Unconscious Recognition is a process by which we are intuitively drawn to people, situations, and events and this recognition process is controlled by the right brain.
Unconscious Recognition of an opportunity is the necessary condition for Luck but Unconscious Execution to capitalize on the opportunity is the sufficient condition for it. Both these functions i.e recognition and execution are intuitive processes. The timing of recognition is another aspect that is essential for luck. Right opportunity at the wrong time unconsciously executed is a recipe for failure. Hence, a new dimension is introduced which is timing. Timing is the bridge between unconscious recognition and unconscious execution and recent research into cortico-temporal responses in the brain has indicated that timing is a function of unconscious decision-making.
Unconscious Recognition is a separate vertical that is an output of Hyperforecasting ©. Few prolific entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs used hyperforecasting to recognize ahead of time the market disequilibrium in particular product space and take intuitive action to seize on the opportunity. William Gibson has been known to quote “The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.” Prolific Inventors and Entrepreneurs use hyperforecasting to perceive parts of future that others easily ignore.
Our independent research (unpublished) will highlight beyond any doubt that that timing is an aspect of deep-rooted unconscious behaviours which primarily involves involuntarily taking intuitively driven actions at the right time. In simulated test runs (Mental Model Innovation ©) and during Startup Decelerator Programs, we have improved the efficiency of luck for the participants, so that one doesn’t have to fail in reality.
Efficient Luck i.e., luck that can improve significantly with minimum iterations is a process that deals with improving unconscious decision-making, optimizing mental models, re-framing family of origin issues, improving pattern & opportunity recognition (quality and timing) as well as full spectrum intuitive baseline development (expertise, insight & foresight).