This week on Field Notes, we’re talking about career paths. We’ve broken this conversation down into four questions. We’ll dive into a different question each day this week. Today is the final day of this week-long conversation. The last question we’re exploring centers around overcoming the obstacles you’ve identified. How do you close your learning gaps? How do you convince your boss to take a chance and give you that project?
We’ve talked about lots of different elements that factor into a career path. We’ve shared words of wisdom, scholarly articles, tools and frameworks. But I think we’ve yet to talk about what is arguably the biggest factor in one’s career… luck.
We’ve all had mentors or leaders we admire regale us with stories of their career that included some moment… some inflection point… where luck played a part. It’s easy to hear those stories and think, “How could I possibly replicate that? They had a lucky break.”
Well, it turns out there is some science to luck and you can actually train yourself to become lucky. A researcher in England, Richard Wiseman, studies the psychology of luck and has found that there are actually a few activities that can make you luckier.
Broaden your focus once in a while. Chance opportunities (lucky breaks) favor those who are open. According to Wiseman, unlucky people tend to miss those chance opportunities because they are busy looking for something specific. There have been some really interesting experiments on the concepts of inattentional blindness and selective attention. You’ve all likely seen the video below.
Think of unlucky folks as those who go into most situations counting how many times the ball is passed. They miss out on the gorillas. Lucky people are more open. They see what is there, not just what they’re looking for.
Get out of your bubble once in a while. It’s those weak ties that make all the difference. If you’re looking for a job and you only circulate your resume to those in your inner circle, you will likely not find any new opportunities. You all share so many things in common that any opportunities they know of you are likely to know as well. But, if you circulate your resume to those folks in your network who are a little further removed – friends of friends – your chances of success are much higher. It turns out the low hanging fruit isn’t necessarily the best fruit.
Change your perception. This often makes the biggest difference. Wiseman did an interesting experiment on this. He took two groups of people (half of whom self-identified as lucky, half self-identified unlucky), presented them with the following unlucky scenario and recorded their reactions.
Imagine that you were waiting to be served in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber enters the bank, fires a shot and the bullet hits you in the arm. Would this event be lucky or unlucky?
I’m sure you will not be shocked to learn that the unlucky people tended to say that this was an incredibly unlucky event. In fact, it was typical of their awful luck. The lucky folks tended to view the incident as much luckier, many stating that it could have been a lot worse… they could have been killed, right? Lucky people often tend to do this – react to “bad luck” by imagining how much worse it could have been. This not only makes them feel better but it also keeps their expectations about the future high, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I would add one activity to Wiseman’s findings and that is to simply be generous. Focusing on others (and what you can do for them) can help you broaden your focus, get out of your bubble and change your perspective. There is also the simple fact that by helping others, you are cultivating a group of people who owe you favors. And, that always helps.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. Get others involved in the conversation as well. Share these posts. Or, write up your take on this (or any of these) questions and we’ll feature it here.