How to Deal with Luck

Posted by Donald Latumahina

To succeed, you need luck. Of course, you need to work hard, but luck also plays an important role. How many people have worked hard but never achieve anything significant?

Reading the book Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb puts this truth right in front of my eyes. Each field has its own degree of randomness which determines how big the role of luck is. The higher the degree of randomness is, the bigger the role of luck is. Some areas – like financial trading which forms the backbone of the book – have such high degree of randomness that people can be very successful out of pure luck. In some other areas, the degree of randomness is lower, so people always need something else besides luck to succeed. But still, they need luck.

I believe that work hard can only take you to a certain level. To move beyond that, you have to be lucky. As Paul Graham wrote, with only work hard Bill Gates might still be rich, but his position would be near the bottom of the Forbes 400. It is luck that bring him to the top. For most of us, work hard won’t even be enough to take us to the Forbes 400.

Knowing how important luck is, we should know how to deal with it. The first step is adopting a probability point of view. It means that we are aware of the role of probability in (nearly) everything.

There is a simple formula we need to understand to deal with luck:

Expectation = Probability * Frequency

For example, if you roll a dice once, the chance of getting a “1” is 1/6 (probability). If you roll the dice 60 times (frequency), then you can expect to get “1” 10 times (expectation). Of course, it is not guaranteed; there is a possibility – though very small – that you never get “1” despite rolling the dice 60 times. But the most likely outcome is getting “1” 10 times.

From this formula, there is something we can learn on how to deal with luck:

To deal with luck, the best thing you can do is increasing your expectation.

You may or may not be successful, but the best thing you can do is increasing your expectation.

To increase your expectation, as you can see in the formula, there are two things you can do:

  1. Increasing the probability, and
  2. Increasing the frequency

The probability is your chance to succeed in any single attempt while the frequency is the number of attempts you try.

Let me give an example in the world of blogging. Suppose your goal is consistently making the Digg front page. Many bloggers feel that this requires some luck. Here is what you can do to deal with it:

  1. Increasing the probability
    To increase the success probability of a post, you should increase the quality of the post as much as possible, and then promote it in the best possible way.
  2. Increasing the frequency
    To increase the frequency, you should push more and more posts of yours. Of course, you should do it without sacrificing the probability of success of each post (that is, the quality and marketing effort of each post).

Eventually, it’s still luck that determines whether or not you are successful. But doing these two steps, you have done your best to deal with luck.

After you have done your best to increase your expectation, here are what you should do:

  1. Sit back, relax, and watch what happen
    You have done your part; there is nothing else you can do. So you should just sit back, relax, and watch how luck plays its role.
  2. If you fail, take it easy and move on
    This is the nice thing of understanding this concept. With this concept in mind, you will accept failures with ease and just move on. Why? Because you know that luck does play a role and you’ve done your best to deal with it. So there is nothing to regret. Of course, you still need to learn whatever you can to increase your future expectation. But with luck playing its role, you know that failures are normal. You can just smile and move on.
Categories: Attitude, Working

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  • Alan

    Great article. Luck may have an effect on the things we do, but it doesn’t mean that it will work all the time. However, With the help of the formula listed above, I agree that it will increase our chance.

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  • Donald Latumahina

    I do think that increasing our chance is the best thing we can do, Alan. Dealing with luck is a bit tricky, but I think we should get used to it.

  • Pamela

    Nice and informative post.
    Most of us don’t believe in luck because it’s unpredictable. However, the real reason should be insufficient knowledge about it. With these guidelines, I think people will start to appreciate the value of luck.

  • Donald Latumahina

    Pamela, in my case I knew that luck somehow has a role, but until recently I didn’t really appreciate it. As you said, it’s because of insufficient knowledge about it. It’s reading Fooled by Randomness that fills the knowledge gap.

  • Daniel Sitter, Idea Seller

    Consider this definition of luck Donald:

    Luck is the intersection, the point at which preparedness meets opportunity.

    Luck, in and of itself, has no power, substance or energy. When you view luck in light of this definition however, there is no limit to the benefits that can be derived from one’s learning efforts, skill development, faith, persistence and willingness to leap out of one’s comfort zone! Call that “luck” if you must.

  • cottage

    luck.. and timing.. those are the two most important things!

  • cottage

    .. ohh buy I guess one could argue that timing is luck as well…

    so I guess the two things that are important are luck and luck ;)

  • Donald Latumahina


    Very interesting definition, Daniel. I think we can actually see luck from several different angles.

    In this post, I see luck from the point of view of the book Fooled by Randomness. Luck here deals with randomness. So I can define luck here as “the outcomes of randomness that favor you”. Using your terminologies of “preparedness” and “opportunity”, luck then is the “occurrence of great opportunities that come to you”. Luck in this definition is entirely in the “opportunity” side. “Preparedness”, on the other hand, is more like “probability” in the equation above. With enough attempts (“frequency”), the “preparedness” (“probability”) might meet the right opportunities (“luck”) which will give us the desired results.

    Again, I agree that we can see luck from several different angles.


    I agree, cottage. Luck and luck. Now we need to deal with them :)

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