Leadership & Influence

How To Increase Your Chances of Success: The Real Psychology Of Luck


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Very few people who have made it in life will ever admit this most common attribute that would have definitely played a part in their success. Sometimes, a considerable part.

What is it? Well, plain old fashioned luck and having the right things line up for them at the right time is the short answer.

Chance and luck are something we have very little control over. However, when we understand that there is both a psychological and a statistical aspect to it, we can align ourselves to take the best advantage for when a hot streak finally comes our way. And eventually, it will.

Daniel Kahneman, renowned psychologist and winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, shows how there are surprising consequences when luck is factored in to someone’s success [1].

According to him, here’s what really predicts success:

success = talent + luck

great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

At first, this seems more like a way of making fun of successful people but there is a statistical basis to this called the regression to the mean – when you see above average performance over a period (success), the more likely future outcome is that this performance will get worse (regress to the mean). The reason for the superior performance in the first instance, is essentially luck.

Daniel Kahnemane discusses this in Chapter 17 of his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, where he discusses the concept of regression to the mean or reversion to mediocrity.

The more extreme the original success, the greater the likelihood that the next outcome will be closer to the mean (average performance). An initial bad performance would indicate a better outcome on the next try.

This concept is so difficult to grasp that is was only discovered by Sir Francis Galton a couple of centuries after Newton’s theory on gravity! It stayed so elusive because psychologically, humans always look for causation when outcomes above or below the mean are seen.

So while this effect was always in play, even scholars were blind to it because of our psychological nature to invent a story to explain what we observe. Rather than assign random luck to someone’s performance, we create narratives (a jinx, overconfidence) to explain what is essentially a process moving to it’s average outcome.

This tells us two things:

1. Don’t be overly awed by one individual’s or a company’s meteoric rise to success. While the story told about it may sound inspiring, it really has no lessons in it for us. It’s being told to us in hindsight and it omits all the luck the participants would surely have had for many key parts.

For example, what are the real odds that the founders of Google would be able to recreate their success on another venture? You have to assume they have the same level of funding and obscurity that they had during Google’s early days.

2. Don’t give up on your own efforts. The more seeds you spread, the more likely that luck and the regression to the mean will catch up for you and give you your big break.

One way to enhance your ability to take advantage your inevitable luck, is to develop a formidable Talent Stack. You can read how to do that here.

Good luck!

Mathematically, it is bound to come your way as long as you stay in the game long enough.

If you want to improve your influencing skills (and your luck), a list of books to help you do that can be found here:

Best books to improve your influencing and persuasion skills


  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman, Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY 2011.

Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at smendonsa@master-influencer.com.


Leadership, Personal Development, Career Advice, Talent, Luck, Statistics

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