Updated: May 9, 2022
Our adaptability transforms preparation into opportunity, our pursuit energy drives our success.
“Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
This is an aphorism by the Roman senator and Stoic philosopher Seneca. It is one of my favorite aphorisms. I have seen it play out in many contexts, over time, for me and for others. I agree with the aphorism, but I also believe it is incomplete. Luck has an element of pursuit energy that goes beyond preparation and opportunity.
That is, one may prepare by study, by practice, and by involvement with those in similar fields. Preparation often involves technical skills development and the building of leadership and management abilities to leverage those skills. Preparation is an endogenous factor, generated by self or as part of a similarly focused team.
Opportunity exists in many forms and fashions. Opportunities may have obvious connections to your preparation or may appear as more tangential to your preparation. Opportunities may come very quickly or may lay in waiting. Opportunity is generally related to one or many contexts, like business, science, government, technology, etc. Opportunity recognition is a key attribute, as opportunities are not always obvious and the less obvious opportunities may be more valuable. Opportunity is an exogenous factor, generated by the environment.
A necessary additional element is personal energy to pursue the opportunity. This is the needed energy to transition the preparation and opportunity building blocks to a successful outcome for you. Some of the actions include 1) analyzing your preparation alignment with the opportunity and 2) adapting your preparation alignment to capture the opportunity. More specifically, the pursuit actions may include learning more about the opportunity; learning from those that understand the opportunity; and networking with those that act as gatekeepers to the opportunity. Opportunity pursuit may involve the personal sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure. Opportunity pursuit involves risk, the risk your sacrifice is not immediately rewarded or that the opportunity changes in unexpected ways.
One must understand, the opportunity will not find you, you need to find and drive the opportunity!
An example could be a new college graduate looking for a job. The preparation is the college education and previous work experience. The opportunities are company job listings. Now, a healthy dose of personal pursuit energy is needed. Remember, no one is going to make this happen for you, you need to drive the opportunity. Some of the pursuit activities include:
tailoring the resume,
performing network searches for people who know related opportunity people,
arranging informational interviews with the network,
attending networking events,
engaging with recruiters,
networking with hiring managers, and
selling oneself on social media. It may include
undertaking relevant certification training,
it could be many other activities.
I'm sure it did not go unnoticed, especially since the words are bolded.... All these activity descriptions all use action verbs. The point is, other than preparation and opportunity, luck also requires energetic pursuit!
So perhaps, an update to the aphorism could be:
Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet with energetic pursuit.
I like Tina Seelig's perspective on luck and bringing entrepreneurial energy. She said preparing for luck relates to the wind. The winds of luck are constantly blowing. The wind can be erratic and unpredictable, blowing hard, light, or in unexpected ways. The idea is to build as big a sail as possible to catch the winds of luck.
Here are Dr. Seelig’s three ideas for building a big sail:
Take risks / get out of your comfort zone
Be open to new ideas and possibilities
A close cousin to luck is adaptability. Adaptability is the lubricating grease between preparation and opportunities. Your ability to adapt your preparation to current and anticipated opportunities is important to luck realization.
Natalie Fratto provides some evaluation points to understand your own adaptability:
Do you regularly ask “what if” questions? - this indicates how comfortable you are stimulating counterfactual thinking.
How flexible are you with active unlearning? - this indicates your ability to quickly error correct.
Are you an explorer? - this indicates whether you prioritize exploration (testing) v exploitation (harvesting).
A great example of luck and adaptability is the Netflix and Blockbuster video market competition in the early 2000s. Blockbuster was the dominant movie rental business. (Blockbuster’s revenue peaked in 2004 and they filed for bankruptcy in 2010) Netflix was a small upstart that saw an opportunity to adapt how the industry provides movies. The adaptation was from in-store DVD rentals to mail and ultimately to streaming movie delivery. Blockbuster was unable to adapt, even though they had incredible preparation as a giant in the business and they could presumably see the opportunity given technology momentum. (mail was certainly not a new technology and streaming existed at the time, as necessary bandwidth challenges were being solved.)
The real difference is, Netflix was adaptable and was able to apply focused pursuit energy:
Netflix asked the “what if” questions regarding movie delivery. They believed people wanted more convenience of home delivery (whether mail or streaming),
Netflix was willing to unlearn the current movie delivery model, though, one could argue they didn’t have much to unlearn at the time. Whereas, Blockbuster was unable to unlearn its movie delivery model. They had substantial investment (i.e., inertia) in their bricks and mortar delivery model.
Blockbuster was exploiting their market dominance, with little energy given to testing. This was an enabling factor for Netflix’s opportunity to explore and pursue the new movie delivery channels.
Ironically, it would seem Blockbuster did not even realize it was in competition with Netflix until it was too late.
"Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,"
- Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes, 2008 interview with the Motley Fool
We all know how this turned out, Blockbuster went bankrupt and Netflix has since become one of the most dominant media companies in history. Netflix demonstrated luck, with pursuit energy, and adaptability!
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