Monday, August 2, 2010

Preparing for a Lucky Break

I got back last week from a week in the Sierra's at my son's Boy Scout camp.  One thing I really like about the Boy Scouts is their emphasis on the scouts learning from experience.  This applies to everything from merit badges, to outdoor skills, to leadership.  (The role of the adult leaders at camp is mainly to make sure the scouts don't get eaten by bears and that they shower at least once.)

In the process of learning, the scouts struggle, make mistakes, and are forced to deal with the consequences of their preparation, or in many cases their lack of preparation.  As a dad, I sometimes feel like my kids live by the motto of "never do today what you can put off until tomorrow."  As a result, I've gained a new appreciation for the genius beyond the Boy Scout Motto:  Be Prepared.

In listening to the tales of many successful entrepreneurs, a common element of these stories is the lucky break, of being at the right place at the right time.  But the more I listen to these stories, the more I'm convinced that a lot of being lucky is actually being prepared.

For example, if you win a free heli-skiing trip to the Canadian Rockies, is this a lucky break or not? Yes, but only if you can ski well.  It was certainly a lucky break for Calvin Klein when, in 1968, a buyer from Bonwit Teller accidentally wandered into his studio after getting off the elevator on the wrong floor.  But only because prior to that day, Klein had spent over six years as an apprentice designer after training at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and had something sufficiently impressive to get the buyer to place a $50,000 order.

So how does one prepare for a lucky break?
  • Network with lots of people  - Most lucky break stories almost always involve a meeting with the right person.  The more you meet, the more likely someone interesting will turn up.
  • Learn, learn, learn - Be curious.  Learn from other people's experiences.  Learn a skill.  The more you learn, the more likely it is that you'll actually know something that can be applied to taking advantage of a lucky break.
  • Learn to recognize opportunity; expand your horizons - According to a study sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, ~25% of the founders of U.S. technology based companies started between 1995 and 2005 were  foreign born. In Silicon Valley, this figure was 52%.  Why?  I don't believe it's because these people were any smarter or better trained than their native U.S. counterparts.  In fact, many of these foreign born entrepreneurs were educated in the U.S.  Instead, I believe it's because  having grown up in a different environment, these foreign born entrepreneurs were able to recognize opportunities invisible to the native born.  Fish don't see the water they are swimming in.  It's tough to take advantage of a lucky break if you can't recognize it.
  •  Practice your skills by struggling with a problems - In a quote attributed to Arnold Palmer (among others), "the more I practice, the luckier I get."  Get into the trenches.  Apply your skills to solving a problem and wrestle with frustrating details.  The devil is in the details but so are the insights that lead to opportunity recognition.  Anyone can recognize a general opportunity at a high level.  But solutions only exist where the rubber hits the road.
  • Step out of your comfort zone and try - As I tell my kids, I can't guarantee that if you try something that you'll succeed, but I can guarantee that if you don't try it you won't.
Or to quote from one of America's great early entrepreneur's:

"Diligence is the mother of good luck."
- Benjamin Franklin -

Get lucky.  Be prepared.

No comments:

Post a Comment