‘Luck’ is a 4-letter word in Western business circles. At best, it’s seen as a taboo topic. At worst, it’s viewed as an insult. Faced with such ‘superstitious nonsense’, most leaders typically fall back on the comforting old adage that ‘There’s no such thing as luck: the harder you work, the luckier you get.’
Now, nobody’s suggesting that managers suddenly dig out the tarot cards or visit their local palm reader. However, there’s an emerging body of research which shows that luck plays a bigger part in business than we care to admit. And crucially, that leaders can stack the odds in their organizations’ favour by actively seeking out serendipity. So at a time when many of us could do with the rub of the green, here are 7 ways to improve your company’s fortunes (without the need for any rabbit’s feet, horseshoes or four-leafed clovers).
- Appreciate what you’ve got
There is now a truckload of evidence, showing that when individuals appreciate the good things in their lives, they become happier, more successful and even healthier. The same goes for companies. Often organizations are sitting on priceless assets that they take for granted: whether that’s their brand, their people, their data, or their own media channels. So one of the simplest things that leaders can do, to maximise their chances of success, is encourage their teams to be much more appreciative of the advantages they already enjoy. What crock of gold might be sitting right under your nose?
- Build resilience
If the last couple of years has taught us anything, it’s that organizations need to be able to deal with bad luck too. This is not simply a case of forcing people to work harder. It’s about building a culture where employees see opportunities in adversity. Many social experiments show that ‘bad luck’ is often a matter of perception and that human beings can be taught to reframe misfortunes as positive chances. What obstacle do you currently face, that could turn out to be a blessing in disguise?
- Hire diversely
The most important arguments for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion are ethical ones. But on top of these moral imperatives, there’s a compelling commercial case to be made: all the evidence shows that diverse teams are more likely to develop breakthrough ideas than homogenous units. That’s because creativity thrives on the collision of concepts and the sparks caused by different points of view. Smart businesses actively encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas by hiring people from different backgrounds and then ensuring that their voices are heard. How can you mix things up in your organization?
- Don’t focus so hard
This one might sound heretical, because we’ve all been taught that strategy requires sacrifice. However, many studies point to the dangers of employees focusing overly hard, or narrowly, on their brief. Particularly at the moment, when times are tough, there’s a risk that teams bury themselves in their own category, business, department or discipline – and blind themselves to opportunities in adjacent areas. Good leaders encourage their people to be like magpies – and borrow ideas from other spheres. What could you learn from another sector or a very different field, such as music, nature, sport or politics?
- Avoid perfectionism
This is another counter-intuitive one but excessive perfectionism can actually impede performance, by slowing organizations down: by the time you’ve honed your idea to the nth degree, a competitor may have launched with a prototype that’s 90% as good. Research shows that perfectionist tendencies have rocketed in recent decades, but smart leaders know that making your own luck requires speed as well as excellence. How could you ram home the message that ‘quick and good is better than slow and perfect’?
- Encourage experiments
Most leaders will acknowledge the need for experimentation in coming up with breakthrough ideas. But few companies enshrine this in their work culture, by ring-fencing the time to test hypotheses and play around with wild ideas. The exceptions are Silicon Valley titans like 3M and Google, who set aside 15%-% of their engineers’ time for such projects. How could you create the conditions necessary for lucky accidents to happen?
- Embrace the unexpected
Finally, be careful not to over-plan your processes. Of course, procedures should be put in place to minimise risk and predict likely outcomes. But there can come appoint when rigour leads to rigor mortis. In particular, many companies use research rather unimaginatively – to “eliminate luck” or “leave nothing to chance”. A better mindset is to commission research that opens doors and creates opportunities – including ones that you did not envisage at the outset. The record producer Quincy Jones has a nice turn of phrase to describe this mentality: “Let the lord walk through the room.” How can you create a culture where your people embrace positive surprises, rather than writing them off because they aren’t on the plan?
Written by Andy Nairn.
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