Two people at a whiteboard in an article about random success

How Random Is Success?

Sometimes all the planning in the world won't guarantee an optimal outcome.
June 1, 2021
5 mins read

Success is seemingly random, as rules — whether you’re a startup, a scientist or an artist — aren’t fixed. They can change, and because of this, it makes it difficult to predict what will work. Even if you make a plan and analyze how you can succeed, the odds are still high that you could be wrong.

So, if you do succeed, it’s not down to the plan, but rather due to something that was unexpected. That goes a long way to explaining why playing at an online casino is such a popular pastime, as a random outcome can contribute to success just like it can in work or in business. For example, many people have read about one lucky winner from Germany who won a whopping €119,994 from a €6 bet at an online casino.

But what unexpected occurrences can happen in business? It could be a conversation with someone that you couldn’t have predicted would help you with an important insight. It could be a buyer who made you realize you could enter a new market. These are examples of things that could drive change.

So How Useful Is Prediction?

Prediction won’t set you apart. You could predict that you will remain where you are. Being able to predict that more people will read a certain title on Kindle might be useful, but it won’t set you apart. Prediction isn’t useful for driving success, because if you make a prediction with sufficient confidence to invest in it, then others can make that same prediction.

So, if prediction has no use moving you toward success, and randomness governs our lives, we should seek randomness. In some areas of our lives, we accept that being the case. In our romantic lives, we cherish randomness. In our professional lives, however, we think we can bypass randomness by developing a career or business strategy. That just isn’t the case.

If you ignore the shiny exterior of success stories, you’ll find there was an unexpected insight or a surprise meeting behind the success. So, it only makes sense that we seek out these kinds of things, i.e., try to find unexpected insights and surprise meetings, and be relentless in doubling down when this approach produces benefits.

Small, Purposeful Bets

Purposeful bets combined with iteration has been a talking point in startups for some time, and it’s workable in large companies too. You should create multiple different bets, then repeat multiple bets until it either succeeds or fails. The reason this works is that if you could correctly predict what works, you’d never do anything that doesn’t. If success really is random, you should frequently roll the dice.

Of course, you have to make attempts to achieve something, and failure is a part of that process. In fact, due to the speed of change, it’s even more important than it was. Your business may disappear, forcing you to adjust. And, of course, that sucks.

What will give you the means to stick through and try and try again? It takes more than just an ROI analysis. Google’s founders created the company for nine months before trying to sell it for million dollars to Yahoo! Yahoo’s ROI told them that it wasn’t a good deal. Newscorp purchased Myspace for close to $600 million before later selling it for $35 million. It seems their ROI analysis didn’t work out either. And yet, that’s the kind of tool you might expect to be emphasized in a college marketing course, rather than how to capitalize on a chance meeting or insight.

So, what can you actually apply? What metric should you choose? The answer is passion. It helps you work out the number of bites of the apple you want to take. You need to place numerous bets in a world that hands out success randomly. Successful companies are those that tap into that passion.


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