Let’s face it, “Luck” is a dirty word in business. If you aspire to any kind of professional recognition, you probably shouldn’t fess up to it. If you want to maintain good relations with your peers, then don’t suggest that they benefited from it either. And if you’d like to write for a sophisticated blog like this one, best give the whole subject a swerve, right?
Well, maybe not. While luck is certainly a taboo, it’s not the primitive, unproven force that we often make it out to be. In fact, we can increasingly quantify the role it plays in society. And after nearly 30 years in the advertising industry, I’m convinced that its influence extends to the world of brand building too.
Sure, there’s no substitute for hard work, talent, and inspiration. But all of those qualities can be turbocharged when we’re mindful of the cards that we’ve been dealt. So at a time when we could all do with improving our fortunes, here are seven practical ways for you to stack the odds in your organization’s favor.
1. Appreciate what you’ve got
The science of gratitude is one of the most exciting fields in psychology right now. Study after study shows that people who consciously express thanks for their lot in life tend to be happier, healthier, and higher-achieving. Funnily enough, I believe that the same applies to organizations. In my line of work, I often find that businesses are sitting on extraordinary resources that they just don’t appreciate. For instance: incredible people, an amazing brand name, a wonderful heritage, or priceless iconography. The more familiar these are, the more likely they are to be taken for granted. So my first suggestion is always to look at these assets with fresh eyes: what advantages does your brand have that others would kill for?
2. Look out for opportunities everywhere
Another way to improve your organization’s fortunes is to develop its peripheral vision. This goes against the conventional advice to focus—especially in a crisis like the one we’re currently experiencing. But research shows that luck often comes down to an ability to recognize opportunities in unexpected places. Applied to organizations, this means maintaining a broader perspective, beyond your core mission. What could you learn from an adjacent industry, region, audience, or discipline?
3. Encourage serendipity
Some of the biggest breakthroughs come from happy accidents. We’re all familiar with the examples from science—such as the moldy petri dish that led to Alexander Fleming’s invention of penicillin. But some of our most famous brands have also been conceived this way—from Coca-Cola to Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. What’s more, organizations can encourage such breakthroughs by facilitating cross-fertilizations between projects and teams. This is obviously harder in Zoom culture but how can you create water-cooler moments when you’re not in the office?
4. Turn misfortune into good fortune
In my experience, one of the characteristics of truly great companies is an ability to turn bad luck into good luck. What’s particularly remarkable is that they often do this by charging towards the challenge, rather than shying away from it. If 2020 has done anything, it’s made us aware of our vulnerabilities. How could you take this one step further and reframe your organization’s greatest weakness as a strength?
5. Create space for magic
Remember the old advice to “leave nothing to chance”? Forget it. While it’s tempting to plan every single aspect of your business, down to the tiniest detail, that’s just not realistic in today’s world. It’s not helpful either, because even if you manage to eradicate bad luck, you’ll also rule out the possibility of good luck. Far better to learn from the legendary Quincy Jones, who has a highly structured way of working but then leaves space “for the Lord to walk through the room.” How can you ring-fence gaps in your processes for divine intervention to strike?
6. Stop pursuing perfection
Research shows that there’s been a distinct rise in perfectionism in Western society over the last 30 years. However, this has been an unhealthy development, which has led to greater feelings of unhappiness rather than higher levels of achievement. Translated to organizations, this obsessive pursuit can slow processes down, create frustration and ultimately become an excuse for corporate inaction. The most successful companies these days strive for excellence but also know the value of “good enough.” How can you quickly get to a great 8 or 9 rather than always holding out for 10 out of 10?
7. Give something away
Finally, how about sharing some of your luck? This might seem counter-intuitive, but we now work in an economy of ecosystems rather than private empires. So although it might go against the grain, giving up some of your intellectual property for the greater good could be more profitable than hugging it close to your chest.
Maybe that’s the real lesson of the last 12 months: that our fortunes are intertwined. What could you give away that would leave everyone better off?
Andy Nairn is a founder of creative agency Lucky Generals and the author of Go Luck Yourself. All royalties from the book go to Commercial Break, an organization that helps working-class kids get a lucky break into the creative business.