If luck is when preparation meets opportunity, what’s the best way to improve your luck, i.e. overall odds of success?
Unless you are in a situation where you have a less than 1% probability of success on a per attempt basis, then focus on increasing your number of opportunities/attempts.
As the chart shows for binary events, e.g. getting jobs, finding dates, selling, hitting a baseball, etc., even when your odds of success are low on a per unit basis, the more times you try, the more likely you’ll achieve the success you desire.
So even if you only have a 2% probability of success for any individual attempt, if you try 50 times your odds of success grow to 64%. A 4% conversion rate means that after only 18 tries you have a better than 50% chance of success.
Unfortunately, too many people put almost all their focus on being “prepared,” instead of putting themselves out there and just trying.
While preparation is important, it’s in the eye of the beholder and often outside of your control. After all, people judge your “preparedness,” not on your actual abilities to do the job, but on their perceptions of your “preparedness”, which may be based on your race, gender, age, accent, degrees, school, etc., and all of the preparedness in the world, will not guarantee that any individual opportunity will translate into a win for you.
I’ve also seen so many supremely qualified people convince themselves that they’re not qualified enough, and that they just need to invest more time in getting prepared in order to be successful, when in reality they need to be spending more time at bat swinging at as many balls as possible, because the more you swing:
- The better you get, as practice makes perfect.
- The odds of hitting the ball go up!
After all, many of the greatest home-run hitters also struck out the most, but we don’t remember their “failures,” as those failures were an expected part of their success.
The chart also highlights the importance of finding the right ponds to fish in. After all, if you are fishing in a toxic ash-pond, your chances of catching a fish will be almost zero, no matter how many times you try. Unfortunately, unless you have parents, teachers and other mentors that can help you find the right ponds and avoid the wrong ponds, you can spend a lot of time fishing in barren pools, since we can rarely see the type and quantity of the fish below the surface, and so struggle to differentiate between the good and bad fishing spots, nor know where the best places to fish are.
This is why social capital is so important, because the more social capital you have, the better stocked your fishing ponds will be, and the better prepared you’ll be to “catch” the fish. When you have lots of social capital, your family, teachers, friends, family friends, alumni, etc. will help guide you to the best fishing spots, show you how to fish, and sometimes even do the fishing for you. After all, even if you are a complete novice, it’s easy to catch a big fat trout at a fish farm, especially when your parents find the fish farm, drive you there, put the worm on the hook and cast the lure for you.
So to increase your luck:
- Try to get at bat as many times as possible, and keep swinging. In much of life, it only takes 1 hit to get you onto base and closer to your ultimate goal, so even if you only have a 1% per unit chance of success, if you try 100 times, your overall odds of success grow to over 60%.
- Find people who can help you find the right pools to fish in, and teach you the tips to increase your per unit odds of catching a fish, increasing success rate from 1% to 2% means that your overall probability of success after 100 tries goes to 87%, which are pretty damn good.
So unless you’re rich, incredibly lucky, or just super damn good, don’t give up as persistence is the most important variable to creating the luck you want.
However, there are a few caveats you need to be aware of:
- The cost of trying needs to be relatively low, so you can afford to invest the time, money and resources to make multiple attempts.
- Assumes the cost of failure is low. If you only have one chance at success, e.g. free solo climbing, where if you fall, you die, then preparation much more important than multiple attempts.
- The pool of opportunities is large enough to support multiple attempts, e.g. there are enough jobs, dates, etc. available that you can simply go onto the next opportunity to try again without great effort.
- Each attempt is independent of each other, so a failed attempt, doesn’t impact future attempts, i.e. the fact you contacted an employer about a job, won’t impinge on your chances with other employers.Finally, here’s the actual formula so you can calculate your probabilities of success yourself
And for those that want to understand the underlying math, here is how I converted the trite but true saying “luck is when preparation meets opportunity” into a mathematical terms.
- Luck = Overall Probability of Success
- Preparation = Per Attempt Success/Conversion Rate or How well positioned you are to convert an individual opportunity into success
- Opportunity = # of Chances at Success , e.g. job interview, asking someone on date, etc.
Then transform into an equation that you can use to easily calculate your overall probability of success:
Luck = 1-((1-Preparation)^Opportunity)
Or Overall Probability of Success= 1-((1-Per Attempt Success Rate)^# of Chances)
So if you attempt something 10 times and have an estimated 10% Per Attempt Success Rate, your overall probability of success = 1-((1–10%)¹⁰) or 65% Overall Probability of Success= 1-((1-Per Attempt Success Rate)^# Attempts)
Thanks to @Gregory Blumenthal for helping me get the calculations right!