What’s Luck Got to do With It?

In a recent post by my buddy @jamesoliverjr, founder of WeMontage, he asked if successful entrepreneurs are just lucky. He concluded success boils down to luck, and he is not alone.

From a distance, some success stories defy logic, but a consistent pattern emerges upon closer examination. This is true for a number of successful entrepreneurs and peak performers of all types.


photo credit: wilhei55 via photopin cc

Let’s see if we can uncover this mystery by dissecting one of these “lucky” individuals. For this experiment, Bill Gates is the perfect specimen.

So, what is the pattern?


Many talk about following your passion but the ultra successful have something closer to obsession. To understand the difference, study the lyrics of the 1980s hit “Every Breath You Take” by The Police:

Every breath you take

And every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take

I’ll be watching you


Every single day

And every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay

I’ll be watching you


Oh can’t you see

You belong to me

How my poor heart aches

With every step you take…


Clearly, this guy needs a restraining order.

A passion is something you love but can do without, while an obsession is something you have to have now and will do almost anything to get. The word obsession carries a negative connotation, but how else would you describe someone like Gates? Judge for yourself.

In interviews, Gates describes his early exposure to programming and how he coded for up to twenty to thirty hours a week in his early teens. While his parents slept, he would sneak out in the middle of the night to code at a nearby university. The fact he did not have permission to use the university computers was not enough to stop him. He needed to code. By the time he was seventeen, Gates logged thousands of hours of programming experience. This during a time when few others had access to computers at all.

Passion? This behavior sounds like something much stronger and puts the next trait on autopilot.

Insane Effort

This is not ordinary effort but painstaking, tedious work that would make most people want to yank their eyeballs out. You would think this obsessed group has a special contract with the universe granting them 30 hours in a day. The difference is they steal time where others kill it. Instead of playing Farmville while standing in line at the DMV, they read, research, plan and write. They start the day hours before everyone else and stay up long after their friends enter dreamland.

Quick Action

An obsession is difficult to hide, because the obsessed become so consumed in the activity. If the need arises for someone with his or her skills, everyone knows whom to call.

This happened with Gates during his senior year of high school when he was asked to work on a project with TRW. He jumped at the opportunity to further pursue his obsession. He spent the spring coding under the tutelage of a much older and seasoned programmer, like the young padawan Sky Walker learning at the feet of Yoda.

Surely, those around him marveled over his stroke of “luck,” but he was not lucky. He was ready!

When opportunities come along, there is no need for the obsessed to get ready or prepare. Preparation happens years in advance.


Though this group is anything but balanced, they recognize the need to have others around them who are. Gates started Microsoft with Paul Allen, who was three years older and more mature. He later hired his friend Steve Ballmer to manage the business side of Microsoft. Would Gates have been as successful without his team of balancers? We can never know for sure, but I doubt it.

What’s Luck Got to do With It?

Even Gates describes himself as lucky because of the access he had to computers, but his small group of piers had the same access. What they lacked was the obsession.

We can all learn a lot by studying the lives of the so-called “lucky” instead of attributing their success to the alignment of the planets. Then, we need to analyze ourselves to see how we measure up.

If your obsession involves standing outside of Macy’s for hours watching the girl at the counter, seek professional help. If it is a skill or talent with the potential to provide value or solve problems, go for it. But find some strong personalities who can pull your head out of the weeds and provide you with a balanced focus.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

What do you think, is success dependent on luck, or the right sequence of actions? Please leave your comments below!

If you could start over with your business, what would you do differently?

Are you thinking about starting a business or have you recently started a business? You may want to take a look at the following answers from our SteamFeed authors for some tips and advice.

Here is the question we asked some of our authors: If you could start over with your business, what would you do differently?


Albert Qian (@albertqian):

If I could start over with my business, I would probably be doing JUST my business instead of my 9-5 job.


Randy Bowden (@bowden2bowden):

I would go all-in with more confidence in myself and my abilities and not worry about failing! I already knew how to fail, doing nothing or doing something stupid because of my fear. So I would figure out exactly what I need to ensure success and go after it with greater self-assurance in my ability! Believe in success.


Keri Jaehnig (@connectyou):

My business has evolved from where I was in the non-profit sector, honing in on demand and what was working, to where my business is now – Online marketing for business brands, non-profits, and political candidates. What I did then has gotten me to where I am now, so no — I would not change that. If I were to do anything differently, I would have started blogging sooner. And I recommend to any small business owner not to delay in launching their blog!


James Oliver, Jr.(@jamesoliverjr):

Have a capable, technically-oriented, founding partner.


Gerry Michaels (@gettysburggerry):

I would have started sooner and definitely kept my blinders on, trusted in myself more from the begining.  If what you are doing is working, don’t stop doing it because someone who thinks they know it all tells you you are “doing it wrong.”  You know YOU best, and if what you are doing is working, build off of it. It is smart to listen to advice from others, but it is smarter to think that advice through and be sure it works within the methods that you employ. In short, don’t be afraid to believe in yourself. I lost time growing my business by trying to mold my business to someone else’s idea of what my business should be.


Derrick Jones (@djoneslucid)

Surround myself with more advisors and get a better understanding of the mental game. The mental game is an aspect of entrepreneurship that is not talked about enough. That is why I spend considerable time talking about it in my book.

Still have questions? Or want to give some advice? Leave your comments below.

A New Entrepreneur Needs Your Advice

How many hesitate starting a business for fear of losing everything? Statistics indicate the odds are not in favor of new startups, with the failure rate as high as 70%. So, why bother at all? To answer this question, let us look at a real life example – a close friend of mine who recently decided to launch his own venture.

Meet Kevin the Engineer

Kevin is a gifted engineer who makes $140,000 a year. Over the last 3 years, he has been itching to start a consulting business and has taken every opportunity to pick my brain in preparation. Yet, he always found a convenient excuse to put on the breaks the moment he was ready to launch.

This time, however, he has incorporated, formed alliances with large contractors, is actively lining up customers and filling his pipeline. He is scheduled to start his first independent contract in early 2013. His plans are well thought out and methodical – far more than my own when I started out several years ago. Why are things so different this time?

The Final Straw

Kevin receives calls from recruiters several times a month, which he usually ignores. But a few months ago, a call from a competing company caught his attention. They proposed a position with a more significant leadership role, more pay and a shorter commute. After more than 20 years in his industry, Kevin knows his worth and set his price at 180k per year. Though he was told his number was within range, the written offer came in much lower at 150k. He realized he had hit a ceiling in his career. Even worse, his employer recently announced plans to downsize his department.

Most would think, thank God he had another lined up, but Kevin decided on a different course. He needed to see how far above the ceiling he could go. This provided the final push he needed to step into the world of small business.

The Risks

Kevin has a wife who is a stay at home mom, young children and a new mortgage. Before buying the new house, he had a significant amount of savings but the purchase ate up a big chunk of the funds. For most, this would not be the best time to venture out on their own, and even I questioned his timing.

Then I asked Kevin a question that crystallized everything for both of us. “Assuming the worst and you fail miserably, how difficult would it be for you to find another job earning as much as you earn now?”

Without hesitation Kevin replied, “Not hard at all.” He went on for several minutes explaining why it would be easy, and his arguments were convincing. His numerous connections and stellar reputation as a leader in his field makes him a target for companies hungry for talent. This helped him realize starting his business was a no brainer, and inaction was riskier than the possibility of failing. Then, my favorite Mark Twain quote came to mind:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

So, What Are Kevin’s Chances?

I am optimistic about Kevin’s chances of succeeding. His preparation and planning go far beyond the typical new entrepreneur. He has advisors with expertise in law, accounting and business management, allowing him to focus on what he does best. Every conceivable piece of paperwork you can think of has been scrutinized. His emergency nest egg, though not as large as before, is more than what most new business owners start with. He also studies my book as if preparing for a final exam. More important is his willingness to embrace the role of entrepreneur, spending the majority of his time promoting his services as he transitions out of his current job. The same companies that tried recruiting him in the past are eager to hire him as a contractor. One of them already has a large project waiting for him.

Never have I had more respect or admiration for Kevin than I do now. How many people would turn down a $150,000 a year job to start a business in today’s economy? How many would take this type of a chance on themselves and go after what they really want? This is not theory or motivational hype. He is a true to life example of those who actually do it.

Still, Kevin is my friend who’s kids play with mine. Our wives know each other and we hang out at each other’s homes. This is not like advising just any entrepreneur. If things go wrong, I will have a front row seat to the drama, which is why I decided to reach out to the SteamFeed community.

So, what is your advice for Kevin? I have directed him to this post so he can benefit from the vast amount of wisdom and experience of this growing community. Go to the comments section, chime in, and let’s help create one more successful entrepreneur.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.