Richard Branson on Business and Luck
It is easy to throw the easy judgment call and say that someone successful is just lucky. It makes you feel better about your unconscious jealousy you have festering within when someone steps out and Being lucky is just being in the right place at the right time. You need to get yourself to the right place first, though. Here is what Richard Branson has to say about luck:
The following has been excerpted from “THE VIRGIN WAY: Everything I Know About Leadership” by I believe that “luck” is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated factors in life.
Those people and businesses that are generally considered fortunate or luckier than others are usually also the ones that are prepared to take the greatest risks and, by association, are also prepared to fall flat on their faces every so often. In stark contrast, the “play it safe for fear of failing” brigade are the ones who just never seem to get as lucky as the risk-takers. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Sadly the vast majority of people seem to view their chances of “getting lucky” in much the same vein as the likelihood of being struck by lightning, as if it is something over which they have zero control.
Well, in my humble opinion they couldn’t be further from the truth — anyone who wants to make the effort to work on their luck can and will seriously improve it.
I remember watching the final round of the British Open golf championship on TV and seeing one of the leaders chip out of a deep greenside bunker. His shot was high but it just clipped the top of the flagpole and amazingly the ball dropped right into the hole. One of the British commentary team exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, what a lucky shot!”
Another commentator in the broadcast booth (a retired American champion as I recall) immediately snapped back with a stinging rebuke, “Lucky! What do you mean ‘lucky’? Do you know how many thousands of hours we all spend practising shots like that? He was trying to put it in the hole and he succeeded. Let me tell you, he worked long and hard on getting that lucky!”
The same sentiment was more eloquently expressed once by Gary Player one of the all-time golf greats, who famously said, “The harder I practise, the luckier I get.”
Over the years, like that golfer, I have often been accused of being lucky in business, but I too believe that a lot of very hard work has played a major part in any luck that has come my way. I must admit to sometimes struggling to figure out where coincidence stops and good luck begins, or put differently, how just happening to “be in the right place at the right time” can so dramatically play into one’s path
A LUCKY EXORCISM
One classic example of this phenomenon had a huge bearing on the early success of Virgin Records. To our surprise and delight, our first-ever album release, Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” had become a huge hit in the U.K. but we were still trying to get someone to take it in the U.S. Despite this European success and my persistent efforts, I just couldn’t seem to convince the legendary head of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, that an all-instrumental album would sell in North America. Regrettably he just didn’t “get it.”
Then one day while Ahmet just happened to be playing the album in his office (presumably still trying to figure out what all the fuss was about) in walked movie director William Friedkin looking for backing music for a movie he had in the works.
By an amazing stroke of good fortune, before Ahmet could turn it off, Friedkin heard “Tubular Bells,” instantly loved it and that was that: he had his backing track and we had our U.S. deal with Atlantic.
Oh yes, and the movie he was working on just happened to be “The Exorcist,” which was destined to become one of the greatest box-office hits of the day, and so it also helped introduce “Tubular Bells” to a global audience.
You could call it luck if you want, but there again I’d spent a lot of time yammering away at Ahmet and if he hadn’t been intrigued enough to listen to it one more time it would probably never have been playing at that critical moment in time.