skip to main content


“I know what you’re thinking.  ‘Did he fire six shots or only five’?  Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself.  But being that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”

Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry


Luck is defined as the chance happening of either fortunate or adverse events; good fortune or prosperity; success; and one’s personal fate or lot.

Chip Denman, manager of the Statistics Laboratory at the University of Maryland, defines luck as “probability taken personally.”  Basically, there are four types of luck:

  1. Luck as superstition – The belief that future good or bad luck can be influenced by such things as:
  • actions that one might do deliberately (blowing out all the candles of a birthday cake) or accidentally (breaking a mirror)
  • or that happen near you (black cat)
  • or even by abstract associations (the number 13);
  • or possession of talismanic objects.
  1. Retrospective luck – our individual past experiences are littered with instances where we were lucky or unlucky. Remembering when we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and good fortune fell our way is a form of retrospective luck.
  2. Luck as seizing a future opportunity – as in the result or effect of a chance or opportunity. For example, Louis Pasteur is credited with saying, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
  3. Separating skill from luck as contributors to success – think about the difference between playing slot machines versus poker.

Luck in Business

Although the ego of many business people will resist, luck has a great influence on the success of every business.  Research has shown that hard work can make a business good, but it takes luck to make a good company great.

Top 50 Firms

Take the list of the top 50 firms as typically featured in popular business bestselling periodicals.  These firms all had to have significant success before being featured.  Ironically, most were followed by systematic decline.

Historically, of the 50 firms, 16 failed within five years, and 23 became mediocre.   Only five out of the remaining 11 firms maintain a high level of excellence.  What happened after becoming great is clearly not enduring greatness but a strong regression to mediocrity.

For many of these companies, a stroke of luck ended them on the list of top firms and not management excellence.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates can be considered incredibly lucky.

He was born into a well-off family, had a private school education, grew up when personal computers were on the rise, and happened to see a magazine cover story that planted the idea for a product.  However, many others had the same kind of luck when it came to their background, but not many people achieved Gates’s level of success.

Gates set himself apart by taking an idea and running with it—he dropped out of college, uprooted himself to another state, and worked round the clock to build a company.

In short, luck in business teaches several lessons.

  1. Successful companies do more with their luck (as with Bill Gates). But, whether it was good luck or bad luck, they achieved more positive results than unsuccessful businesses did.
  2. Call it good preparation or call it luck, being at the “right” time can make a big difference in whether or not a business succeeds.
  3. You are unlikely to benefit much from learning from successful “role models” because even if you could replicate everything they did, you could not replicate their luck.
  4. Hard work and grit are likely to play a more critical role than luck in achieving decent successes. But the same factors are unlikely to enable them to move from good to great.

We all need to learn to accept business outcomes outside our control.  So, what is a business person to do?  Sit by the phone while fate and luck take their course?


Continue to work hard to achieve your personal success.  Celebrate the victories and transition through disappointments.  But, just in case, take your lucky rabbit’s foot to every business meeting.

The Bible

The Bible provides two crucial positions on luck.

First, Proverbs 16:33 states a general principle:

“The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.”

Similarly, Isaiah 46:10 says:

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.

I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

And Psalm 139:16 says:

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Our Lord God is in control of everything, even those actions that we perceive as luck.

Second, and probably the most problematic, is the problem of considering luck as an idol.  An idol is anything that one turns to instead of God.

In many countries, people have idols made with human hands that they worship.  Then, people pray to these idols and believe that good things will happen by burning incense.

But it is not just in other countries.

For example, many professional athletes have “lucky” rituals like wearing certain items of clothing over and over.  Other athletes chew only black licorice, take the same number of warm-up shots, or arrange objects on the bench the same way.

These are no different from burning incense or praying to a piece of wood.

Successful business leaders and entrepreneurs need to recognize that luck plays a part in their success.  Also, they know that only one God has providence over your life, and no personal rituals will ever influence Him.

Trust in God and accept the plans He has already created for you.