Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 5 Elements of Luck and The Analogy of the Spider

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." - Seneca

I sometimes wonder when sitting down to write a post whether what I'm going to discuss is truly adding to the body of knowledge that's out there in some way. Whether it's a brand new concept or an old concept re-framed in a way that helps more people make use of it I strive to present something fresh. In the spirit of the latter (the re-frame) I'd like to use this post to discuss LUCK.

The concept of "luck" is a favorite of mine especially because it is used by so many people to explain so many things. Granted in life there are no guarantees and the flip side of "no guarantees" is "luck". But the luck concept is often misused as an excuse for inaction, procrastination and self-defeat.

Luck is a term that pops up in many of my conversations with mentees/clients. I'll hear things like: "So and so got the promotion instead of me because he was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.", "I never have any luck.", "She got that job offer because she was lucky enough to know a friend of the hiring manager", etc. etc.

To deal with these comments and feelings I always bring up one of my favorite quotes on the topic: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." It is attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca. I love it because it pretty much takes "luck" out of the luck equation. It opens a window for people to take more responsibility for what happens in their lives rather than attribute it to good or bad luck.

"Luck is what you have left over after you give 100 percent." - Langston Coleman

What does it mean to work and be prepared for that opportunity you are seeking? What steps can one take to get 'luckier'? I am far from the first person to make and use the analogy of a spider but this analogy is quite apt. In order to find food and stay alive a spider must select a good location, build a web, wait ever so patiently for its prey (its opportunity), recognize when its prey has arrived and act at the precise moment to exploit its catch most effectively. The spider can't rely solely on 'luck' for its survival. And yet it has no way of knowing if a fly will actually find its way into its' web. These "spider steps" are precisely the ones we all have to follow as well to get 'lucky'.

Broken down here are those steps, those ingredients, those elements of good luck - use them to pursue your goals:

1. STUDY - deeply study the areas of interest related to your goal. Never before in the history of the world has it been easier to do research on any topic. The Internet - this great, intertwined Oracle - is at your fingertips making a mind blowing array of resources available to you. Presumably a spider had to learn how to spin a web (I'm not a biologist but for the sake of this analogy work with me here!) and study a few webs before building one for itself. For example, if your goal is to find a new job then study the job market in the industry and location desired. Especially study companies where you would like to apply. Learn everything there is to know about these companies and then learn a little more.

2. PREPARATION - sure "study" can be considered part of the preparation step but once you've done all of the "intangible" work - the reading and learning about your area of interest it's time to move to a more active and tangible step. That's what I'm calling "preparation". It's the filling of the forms, the polishing of the shoes, pulling out the rolodex/contact list and the mental preparation required to focus on the objective you've set for yourself. This is an active step - it is the planning. To continue the job search example this is where you decide and write out your career goal, decide how many networking phone calls and meetings you will have each week, decide which job boards and newspapers to monitor, set up your recording mechanism to keep track of your contacts and research, etc. etc.

3. EXECUTION (SPINNING THE WEB) - as the spider does it's time to spin the web. It's all about executing on your well thought out and prepared plan. Put it into action - do everything you can do increase your chances of success. As Langston Coleman says - once you've given it 100% then the rest is up to luck. In the job search example this is the ACTION part of the plan. This is when you go and make the phone calls, send the resumes, meet the people, go on the interviews, etc.

4. PATIENCE - this is the hardest step. Once a spider's web is spun it's all in the waiting. The spider is not sure when the prey will fly into the web but it almost always will at some point. Once you're confident you've done everything you can to achieve your goal it's time to wait. Waiting can be hard work no doubt. But this is not a passive waiting where you just wait for the universe to decide your fate. It's an active, intentional waiting where you monitor your plan and perhaps tweak your web based on the monitoring. A good friend of mine once commented that when people see someone successful no really knows the background story of how hard it was to get there. We all tend to focus on the success part and not so much on the path or how long it took for that person to achieve that success. We rarely recognize the patience it required.

5. KNOWING WHEN TO ACT AND ACTING - Once the opportunity does arrive it's critical to recognize its arrival (I have seen people wait for an opportunity and yet completely miss perfectly great ones when they arrive especially if those don't fit 100% with what they had expected or imagined). After recognition one must evaluate the opportunity and act upon it at precisely the right time to maximize its potential. You've received a job offer? Great! Is it what you wanted or close enough to what you wanted? How much should you negotiate? etc. When the spider moves on its' web to act on its' prey it moves confidently and with purpose just as you should. Taking advantage of the opportunity is the actualization of "luck". It's all the preparation and work coming to fruition.

I acknowledge that there is some "luck" out there - timing is everything as they say. 'Luck' may be that one person has to wait for an opportunity less time than another despite similar conditions and preparation. Nevertheless I believe that the end goal - the opportunity we seek - is in front of all of us if we put in the work to get 'lucky'. Recognizing these 5 elements of luck [study, preparation, execution, patience, acting on the opportunity] and working them to our advantage to reach our goals will maximize our chances against "the house". I hope this posting was helpful.

I wish you all Good "Luck"! :)

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." - Thomas Jefferson.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tips for finding a mentor when you're unemployed

The following question came to me via Twitter: "what's the best way for the unemployed/self-employed to find a mentor?". Terrific question!

One clear difference between someone who is employed vs. someone who is not or is self-employed is access to resources. (By 'self-employed' I'm assuming the person works by themselves or owns a small company for the sake of this discussion). Not that an unemployed/self-employed person doesn't have access - just that it takes more work to reach out and network with people when you don't have a company full hundreds of folks running around you.

Start off by making a list of folks that you already know that would make a good mentor in your opinion - a list of "candidate mentors". Perhaps there's already someone in your life who you'd like to emulate and who has the time and inclination to do so. If you need help developing this list of mentor candidates then ask around! If you are comfortable approaching your previous managers I'd ask them. Prior managers who already know you well may be able to come up with names of folks that would make a good fit. You should also ask friends and family if they themselves have mentors or know people who do. Just like finding a new job finding a new mentor is all about networking!

Other suggestions to develop a candidate mentor list:

  1. Use your local industry group. Ask their leaders for ideas. Usually people who head local or national professional organizations have contacts who are willing to be mentors. They may even be interested in mentoring themselves!
  2. Your local religious group or organization may be a fruitful path. Private organizations such as these tend to cut across corporate hierarchical structure and afford you access to a wide variety of people too.
  3. If you are self-employed and work with vendors ask the vendors for suggestions as they will likely know other folks in your industry (granted you want to avoid people with whom you are in direct competition with).
  4. If you are willing to go the paid Business Coach route again I'd ask for recommendations from peers or former peers.

Once you've developed your candidate mentor list then, as described in more detail in an earlier post about asking someone to be your mentor, set up a short meeting with each of them and talk about what starting a mentoring relationship means to you and why you would be honored if they'd become your mentor. Most people will be at the very least flattered by your request.

The bottom line is whether unemployed, employed or self-employed the key to finding your mentor is through networking and recommendations - much like finding your next job or client!

I hope this answers your question and offers some tips. Thanks again for the great question! Keep them coming!