One piece of flippant commentary that you’ll hear occasionally is that it’s “Better to be lucky than to be good.” On an individual level, it’s almost certainly true that being very lucky outperforms being quite good: I certainly know a number of folks who are financially successful after working at companies that succeeded, but where their direct impact was relatively small. Companies get lucky, too. This is true both in the sense that the door to acquisitions was much more attractive last decade than it is today, and also in the sense of Ben Horowitz’s quote from The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.”
I was thinking about luck and strategy recently while talking to a friend whose company’s strategy is best described as finding an irrational buyer before running out of money. I was _also _thinking about luck when dealing with a dilemma involving several disagreeing, frustrated individuals with relatively poor resolutions: maybe, I joked, we could just get lucky.
There’s nothing wrong with getting lucky; rather there’s quite a lot right about getting lucky. I don’t know any individual or company whose financial success is not to some extent the result of getting lucky. The important bit is that getting lucky isn’t a strategy, it’s an unreliable, probabilistic bailout. It’s good to get lucky, but you still need an actual plan that doesn’t rely on luck.
Even if a situation is grim, there’s always an option that puts you, or your company, in a better position:
- At Digg’s end, we were running out of money and user engagement was dropping. We made a major swing towards Facebook-driven virality through publishing events to the news feed. This didn’t work that well for us, in the end, but it did open up a series of new discussions that culminated in our acquisition
- Operating within China and Russia was extremely challenging for Uber given local competition, but by going in briefly we were able to cause enough disruption to those marketplaces to capture significant equity stakes in local competitors as compensation for leaving the markets
- As Yahoo’s search share shrank, we were able to do enough innovation in search to drive a compelling search acquisition from Microsoft rather than dwindling without commensurate compensation
If you can’t think of any option that advances the cause, consider whether you and your job have already gone separate ways without either of you realizing it. Getting lucky is always a bad strategy, even if you see successful people around you relying on it.