Monday, August 20, 2007

Luck and the entrepreneur

Marc Andreesen has an awesome post about luck and the entrepreneur here. In it, he talks about the 4 types of luck, and how entrepreneurs can best exploit luck.

Chance 1: Blind luck

The good luck that occurs is completely accidental. It is pure blind luck that comes with no effort on our part.

Chance 2: Motion

In Chance II, something else has been added -- motion. A certain [basic] level of action "stirs up the pot", brings in random ideas that will collide and stick together in fresh combinations, lets chance operate. Motion yields a network of new experiences which, like a sieve, filter best when in constant up-and-down, side-to-side movement... Chance II springs from your energetic, generalized motor activities... the freer they are, the better. [Chance II] involves the kind of luck [Charles] Kettering... had in mind when he said, "Keep on going and chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of someone stumbling on something sitting down."

Chance 3: Recognizing good fortune

We see blind luck, but it tiptoes in softly, dressed in camouflage. Chance presents only a faint clue, the potential opportunity exists, but it will be overlooked except by that one person uniquely equipped to observe it, visualize it conceptually, and fully grasp its significance. Chance III involves involves a special receptivity, discernment, and intuitive grasp of significance unique to one particular recipient. Louis Pasteur characterized it for all time when he said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

Chance 4: Personal approach to the opportunity

[Chance IV] favors the individualized action. This is the fourth element in good luck -- an active, but unintentional, subtle individualized prompting of it.

Chance IV is the kind of luck that develops during a probing action which has a distinctive personal flavor. The English Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, summed up the principle underlying Chance IV when he noted: "We make our fortunes and we call them fate." Chance IV comes to you, unsought, because of who you are and how you behave...Chance IV is so personal, it is not easily understood by someone else the first time around... here we probe into the subterranean recesses of personal hobbies and behavioral quirks that autobiographers know about, biographers rarely. [In neurological terms], Chance III [is] concerned with personal sensory receptivity; its counterpart, Chance IV, [is] involved with personal motor behavior.

To recap:
  • Chance I is completely impersonal; you can't influence it.
  • Chance II favors those who have a persistent curiosity about many things coupled with an energetic willingness to experiment and explore.
  • Chance III favors those who have a sufficient background of sound knowledge plus special abilities in observing, remembering, recalling, and quickly forming significant new associations.
  • Chance IV favors those with distinctive, if not eccentric hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviors.
For entrepreneurs, this means:
  • How energetic are we? How inclined towards motion are we? A variation on the "optimize for the maximum number of swings of the bat" principle. (Same thing that Reid Hoffman mentioned in his talk) In a highly uncertain world, a bias to action is key to catalyzing success, and luck, and is often to be preferred to thinking things through more throughly.
  • How curious are we? How determined are we to learn about our chosen field, other fields, and the world around us? Curiosity is more important than intelligence. Curious people are more likely to already have in their heads the building blocks for crafting a solution for any particular problem they come across, versus the more quote-unquote intelligent, but less curious, person who is trying to get by on logic and pure intellectual effort.
  • How flexible and aggressive are we at synthesizing -- at linking together multiple, disparate, apparently unrelated experiences on the fly? I think this is a hard skill to consciously improve, but I think it is good to start most creative exercises with the idea that the solution may come from any of our past experiences or knowledge, as opposed to out of a textbook or the mouth of an expert. (And, if you are a manager and you have someone who is particularly good at synthesis, promote her as fast as you possibly can.)
  • How uniquely are we developing a personal point of view -- a personal approach -- a personal set of "eccentric hobbies, personal lifestyles, and motor behaviors" that will uniquely prepare us to create? This, in a nutshell, is why I believe that most creative people are better off with more life experience and journeys afield into seemingly unrelated areas, as opposed to more formal domain-specific education -- at least if they want to create."

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adam said...
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