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Are you skilled or just lucky

09 June, 2016

We keep chasing it. The success. Every day, every quarter and every year. We constantly want to see improvement and reach our goals. In business, success is essential. However, success has a downside. We become dazzled by it, and then we don’t understand the reason for the success. Therefore it is important to be more skeptical of the success than of the defeat.

A couple of months ago, we went through the monthly results from one of Columbus’ subsidiaries. It was a typical online meeting, where we discussed the business and where the country manager spoke about the results of last month and about the expectations for the next month. At this particular meeting we could celebrate because the subsidiary - after a long period with weak results - suddenly presented a strong result. Almost everything indicated green lights, and the atmosphere was characterized by optimism about the future. It was a good meeting, and we concluded that now the subsidiary was on their way out of the crisis.

The next month, we had another meeting. However, now the situation was quite different. The subsidiary showed disappointing numbers, and had numerous excuses. We must have overlooked something essential at the previous meeting, and we went through the material again. We found out that we could have anticipated the situation, but that our delight in the success had overshadowed our skepticism. It turned out that the subsidiary had “just” managed to make a good result this particular month, but that they were not able to repeat the success. The underlying business situation was unchanged.

There is no doubt that luck is an important ingredient in success, and the more times you try, the greater the chance is that you are smiled on by fortune. If you continue to throw two dice, at some point you will get two sixes. That is statistically proven. But in business, you rarely have many attempts. Here the hit-rate needs to be more often and much greater. The fundamental problem with luck is that it is difficult to replicate and therefore not suitable as a basis for either strategy or success.

Therefore, the most important question you can ask yourself when you stand with your hands over your head celebrating the success is ”was it luck or skills?”. If I had been sufficiently skeptical at the meeting, we would quickly have figured out that the good result was achieved by luck and not by skills. In this context, the concept skills should be understood more broadly as a combination of analysis, insight, feelings and experience. Managers use different skills and tools to analyze situations, but it is important to use the abilities that work best for you rather than pursue luck. My experience is that the more specific information and factual indicators that can be obtained of a given situation, the greater the chance of dissecting luck and skills. This way we ensure that we know when we have been lucky and when we have been talented.

As humans, we learn most from our mistakes, and we remember our blunders much better than our successes. My recommendation is to deal with success with the same skepticism as we treat blunders. It is important to constantly be alert of luck as the basis for success. Should you then celebrate a lucky success? Certainly! A success should always be celebrated because it brings results, motivation, team spirit and drive, but as a leader you need to see through whether you were lucky or talented, otherwise you end up making the wrong decision.

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