The Luck of the Irish?

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IT Weapons recently won a joint contest from Cisco and Tech Data that landed Jay and I in Dublin for four days of high-level sessions with their respective executives.  ITW has been working hard this past year to build up our Cisco practice, so this was a great opportunity.  We stayed at the Shelbourne hotel (above) and were lucky enough to get a few hours each day for some beer and whisky tourist activities.   The entire trip—the traditional imagery and folk lore about the luck ‘o’ the Irish—and the fact that we won our way to Ireland got me thinking about luck.   What role has luck played in where I am today?  What role does luck play in business generally?  Who should we thank for good fortune?  Was it fate?

Luck is a tricky thing.  On the one hand, I don’t believe in fate.  As the old bluesman Willie Dixon said … “I ain’t supestitious.”   I’d like to think we live in a world where I am the author of my destiny.  We make our own luck in this world.  On the other hand,  it would be arrogant … terrible hubris … to think that my (and Jason’s) hard work is the sole reason we have managed to be successful (so far).   Of course chance and other external factors play a part.  The hard work of so many other people are cornerstones of our company’s growth since we started in 2000.  The story of IT Weapons involves a complex interplay of people, events, emerging technologies, and some risk taking by Jason and I. And what is more, there are certainly people out there who work hard across a lifetime and still never manage to find success.

So … does that mean we just ‘got lucky‘?  I don’t think that captures the facts.  I think the reality is that if you work to develop productive, positive, disciplined habits, you can make chance and luck work with you … most of the time.   At the risk of making our industry out to look like a game: consider the difference between poker and blackjack.

If you sit down at a blackjack table and make the same $5 bet on each hand you’re dealt, you will eventually lose all your money.  You might have a good night here or there … but in the long run, luck is not on your side at the blackjack table.  Casinos make money because the odds to win in blackjack are stacked in the dealer’s favour.  They wouldn’t offer to play you if the facts were otherwise.  Now, if you are good with numbers (or maybe like RainMan, you can count some cards) you may reduce the casino’s advantage over you … but in the end, they have the advantage.  They will win in the long run.  In blackjack, it doesn’t matter how clever you are, it doesn’t matter how hard you work;  in the end, winning is simply a matter of luck.  Chance is the author of your destiny.

Now, compare this situation to what happens at a poker table.

At the poker table, the casino makes its money by either charging the players an hourly fee to sit at the table, or they take a percentage of the winnings (called ‘the rake’) from each hand that gets played.  When the cards get dealt, the odds of each player winning are exactly the same.  No one has any natural advantage.  However, if you are good with numbers, and you’ve developed a good eye for observing other people’s behaviour (smelling a bluff) you can become a very dangerous poker player.  That is precisely why you see the same small number of professional poker players scooping up all the money at those tournaments on TV and in Las Vegas every year.  Unlike blackjack, the game of poker rewards skill, patience, and good logical judgment.

To be sure, chance still plays a big role in who wins your Friday night poker game.  Everyone gets dealt a few bad hands now and then, and lady-luck can always turn on you when you least expect it.  But … in the long run, if you exercise discipline and good judgement often, you will be successful at poker.

I would say that the situation in business is exactly the same.  Developing good habits, discipline, and exercising careful judgement may not guarantee success (for, there are no certainties in life beyond death and taxes) … But these things, when you do exhibit them often, increase the likelihood of success.  And if you can surround yourself with people who you truly believe are smarter than you, and that exhibit these traits … I would say your chances of success are pretty good.

Like I said … Luck is a tricky thing.

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