“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson.
I have been interested in the psychology of entrepreneurs for over 20 years, indeed ever since I conducted some of the original research on entrepreneurial thinking styles. Surveying the scene today one of the things that strikes me is the lack of interest in business ‘luck’: not pure chance, lottery-type luck, but the luck that is a product of the way someone views the world. To explain, let’s start with a quick blast of personality stuff.
If you look at scientific studies of the personality of entrepreneurs, for example the meta-analysis conducted by Zhao and Seibert (2006), it appears that personality is linked to business success. In particular four of the five main personality factors – Openness (to experience), Conscientiousness, Neuroticism (emotional well-being) and Agreeableness – seem to differentiate entrepreneurs from other types of business people.
Thus entrepreneurs have higher levels of Openness which suggests they are likely to be more creative, and better able to embrace change and capitalise on new ideas. They are also more Conscientious and concerned with delivery, controlling everything and sticking to the job until it’s finished – in short they are more task and achievement orientated.
When it comes to Neuroticism and Agreeableness, they are more self-confident, resilient and able to cope with open-ended and possibly chaotic situations; and are tougher, more assertive and demanding, than most managers – certainly they are better equipped to deal with ambiguity and are able to look beyond the immediate to future possibilities.
Now, I suspect you’re asking yourself, what has this got to do with luck?
How to be lucky
If you read the scientific work on luck, for example Professor Richard Wiseman’s ground breaking research on the ‘lucky mind’, you will discover that people are not born lucky; rather, often unconsciously, they are using principles that boost their chances of success. For example, lucky people are particularly skilled at acting on chance opportunities. They do this by having a more relaxed, more resilient attitude to life and its complexities, and by being open to new thoughts and experiences.
Then there’s the expectation that the future will be full of good fortune. This accounts for the fact that lucky people tend to keep going in the face of failure, i.e. they do not give up but are able to (positively) move onto the next thing. In this way lucky people tend to be unusually persistent. And of course the lucky also tend to turn bad luck to good luck by taking control of the situation.
Overall then there seems to be quite a parallel between what we know about the personality of entrepreneurs and the psychology of luck. Obviously this does not mean that someone who exhibits these characteristics will automatically turn into a business success, but it probably helps. So perhaps entrepreneurs really are benefiting from having a lucky personality after all…
Wiseman, R. (2004). The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind. Arrow Books.
Zhao, H., and Seibert, S.E. (2006). The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Entrepreneurial Status: A Meta-Analytical Review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(20), pp. 259-271.
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