Xxi) Importance Of Luck


"...Great performance by a business often leads to managers being feted for their brilliance, just as poor performance sees them pilloried for bad decisions. In truth, it is very hard to identify the sources of performance, and success is not necessarily the result of things a manager can control..."
Phil Rosensweig as quoted by Economist, 2016

Sometimes luck plays a big part, ie your timing is right. You are in the right place at the right time.

"...Luck tends to play a bigger role in success than we think..."

Sophie McBain 2018

Random factors, that are beyond your control, can have a bearing on your degree of success that are beyond your control, eg where you were born and who your parents are.

"...Only one in eight children from a low income British family is likely to become a higher earner themselves..."

Report from Social Mobility Commission (British government, 2016) as quoted by Sophie McBain 2018

"...our talents and intelligence, as well as qualities such as industriousness or grit, are at least partly inherited, not only through genes but also because they are influenced by our upbringing and the values and opportunities we are presented with..."

Sophie McBain 2018

Linked with this is how lucky you feel, ie

"... People who believe they are lucky tend to attract more good fortune because they create and notice more chance opportunities, are more resilient and more likely to have self-fulfilling positive expectations......unlucky people tend to be more anxious, and their anxiety prevented them from noticing the unexpected..."

Richard Wiseman as quoted by Sophie McBain 2018

Also lucky people tend to be more generous and grateful.


"...People who believe they are lucky tend to achieve more - and we can all create more self-fulfilling positive expectations..."

Sophie McBain 2018

Some examples

- US civil rights movement (on at least 2 occasions, Dr Martin Luther King (US civil rights leader), had some luck that kept the civil rights movement going. One time in Alabama when the white authorities were getting the upper hand against the protests, large numbers of students unexpectedly walked out of schools and universities to join the protest. This swung the momentum back in King's favour. Another time was when the US Federal Court gave an unexpected ruling in King's favour against segregated schooling. On both these occasions, the unexpected positive events were regarded as pivotal turning points in the civil rights movement (SBS 2020c).

- Einstein's thought experiments developed the theory of relativity. He thought that this one was his greatest mistakes but later it turned out to be his greatest discovery!!!!!

 - The building of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Before its opening in 1997, the port of Bilboa
"...was a basket case: polluted, filled with rotting heavy industry, crushed by unemployment, dying a slow death on every available measure. These days it is a very model of a modern European cultural destination, filled with new buildings and bustling cafes..."
Andrew Dickson, 2017

As a result of its success
"...It enshrines the idea that, by investing heavily in culture - ideally an iconic gallery or museum - down on their luck cities can embrace our dynamic new future..."
Andrew Dickson, 2017

Other cities have tried to imitate Bilbao, ie use architecture and art to fast track redevelopment in places like Perth, Metz, Belo Horizonte, Aarhus, Hong Kong, Glasgow, Liverpool, etc. These cities have had varying degrees of success.

Some negative effects of the Bilboa phenomenon include becoming
"...Sinister code for tearing the heart out of communities and turning their inhabitants into service sector drones, catering to the whims of latte-sipping tourists and fatcats in penthouse flats..."
Andrew Dickson, 2017


Some myths were generated:

- tourism saved the city (despite the millions of visitors, tourism is still only 5.2% of the regional economy; tourism is a notoriously fickle market, ie they can stop coming as 2020 pandemic proved)

- it was a basket case (regeneration had started nearly a decade before, eg in 1988 a new Metro system was commissioned; master plan for Bilbao was developed in 1989 which suggested razing developing industrial areas into business, residential and leisure hotspots)

- it was a cultural-led redevelopment (it was a property-led redevelopment that resulted in a boom in private high-end apartment blocks, underwritten by large-scale, publicly funded infrastructure projects;
"...'McGuggenisation' was apt......the arrival of this American franchise has changed the city, but rarely for the benefit of the people who have paid for it. Industrial livelihoods have been replaced by McJobs, neighbourhoods were gentrified, multinational stores have moved in and the fabric of the city has been torn down rather than repurposed......as a city centre became richer, poorer inhabitants were forced to live further out, where the effects of migration...... put more pressure on housing. Unemployment in the Metropolitan region was now nearly 18%, higher than the...... Spanish national average. The city was doing worse than its Basque rivals..."
Lorenzo Vicario as quoted by Andrew Dickson, 2017)

- an exercise in branding
"...from London's emergence from fire in 1666 to New York's recovery from the crack epidemic of 1982 and Barcelona's redevelopment after the 1992 Olympic Games, the story of a city rescuing itself is one we find hard to resist..."
Andrew Dickson, 2017

It involves storytelling

Lucky breaks

Bilbao had a succession of lucky breaks, eg

- Guggenheim Board in USA was looking to expand
- Guggenheim's negotiations with Salzburg in Austria collapsed (Bilbao was not being considered before the collapse)
- Basque government financially supported the Project with tens of millions of dollars (including construction, franchising fee, etc)
- political stability as shown by the Basque nationalists entering mainstream politics and separatist parties were less demanding for outright independence in favour of limited self-government
- cheap air flights were transforming European travel (making it cheaper and easier to travel)
- global communications becoming more common (the Internet was in its infancy)
- globalisation was starting
- the multiplier effect of the iconic intervention (such as the local population feels renewed pride, economic ripple effect of the investment, etc)

Thus how much of the success of Bilbao was due to planning and/or luck is a debatable point.

Every successful career has had a modicum of luck. Many seemingly trivial random events can have major impacts. Some examples

- date of birth
"...The children in the northern hemisphere born in the summer tend to be the youngest members of the class at school, which appears to explain why they are significantly less likely to have a leadership position during high school and...... less likely to land premium jobs later in life......the number of American chief executives were born in June and July is almost one third lower than would be expected on the basis of chance..."
Robert H Frank, 2016

- first letter of a person's last name
"...Assistant professors in the 10 top-ranked American economics departments......were more likely to be promoted to tenure the earlier their first letter of the last name fell in the alphabet..."
Robert H Frank, 2016

- where you are born, ie developing vs developed country
"...Success is not guaranteed for deserving people in wealthy countries with highly developed legal educational institutions and other infrastructure, but it is substantially more likely..."
Robert H Frank, 2016

In addition to luck, talent and effort are pivotal for success.

NB There is evidence
"...merely prompting people to reflect on their good fortune tends to make them more willing to contribute to the common good......also more likely to experience happiness and good health..."
Robert H Frank, 2016

NB Luck does play an important part in success or failure.


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