Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Thing That Every Business School Fails to Teach

The last two weeks of September 2014 were exceptionally good for what’s left of my PR business. I managed to get the Executive Chairman of my remaining client,Apex-Avalon onto Channel NewsAsia, the BBC, Bloomberg TV and CNBC Asia in the space of two days and for good measure, the Edge Review ran an article in which he was quoted several times.

During the course of our interactions, I was asked if I had been lucky. My reply to him was that, I was lucky and I knew how to be lucky.

I state that I was lucky because news events favoured me. Chinese President, Xi Jiping was visiting New Delhi and India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nahrendra Modi. As such, everyone wanted to talk about China-India relations. As it so happed, I happened to have a client is an expert on the topic – Girija Pande is an Indian(now a Singaporean) who was appointed by the Mayor of Guangzhou to be a specialeconomic adviser. The time was right. I had pitched the client earlier on in the year and was constantly told that I had to wait for a better time.

So, I was lucky but I also maintain that I was knew how to be lucky. In this instance, I knew that the elements for success were there and all I had to do was to bring them together.
I think of this conversation I had with Mr. Pande, because I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Hans Hoefer, the founder of Appa Guide books, as I was getting ready to leave university and wondering what I’d do with my life. Hans, had showed up in London out of the blue and invited me for lunch. During the course of our conversations, he told me that in his life’s experience, he found that, “The one key thing that all business schools fail to teach is – CHANCE.”

A lot of success in business and in life, comes from being at the right place at the right time. Luck plays a largely misunderstood part in success. Most of us think of luck as the element that helps us win big in the lottery or at the Casino. Then there are those of us who write off luck and attribute everything that they achieve to their own skills.

Both these extreme views misunderstand the real meaning of luck. Let’s face it, we get certain things in life because we are lucky. Being born into the family that you’re born into at the place where you’re born is a matter of luck. If I take myself as an example, I am exceedingly an exceedingly lucky person. I was born in Singapore, a little red dot that had peace and stability in the 70s. My fortunes could have been very different – I could have been born in another part of Southeast Asia, like Vietnam or Cambodia, which at the time, were going through a series of nasty wars. I am also lucky that I was born into a family that believed in education and so I went to a series of good schools.

However, luck can only bring one so far. Things like skill and hard work often play a key role in success. You need preparation to succeed in life. I remember making some remark about how boxers like Mike Tyson earned several millions for a few seconds work. My uncle pointed out to me that the average boxer trains two hours more a day than what most of us work in a day. Mike Tyson admits that the reason for his historic loss of Buster Douglas was because he partied beforehand while Douglas was training for all he was worth (Buster Douglas would lose his title eight months later because for pretty much the same reason why he won it – only this time he was the guy having fun instead of training).

If you listen to enough successful people talk about their success, you’ll find that they often try to down play their luck. I mean seriously, who wants to attribute success to something as random, unpredictable and indiscriminate as luck.

Being clever and hardworking are important. However, just as the world is filled with people who rely on dumb luck, it’s also filled with clever, ambitious and hardworking people who never get anywhere.

Real success comes from being able to understand and are prepared for luck. In golf and snooker, we have the examples of Gary Player and Steve David who are both reported to have said, “The more I practice, the luckier I become.”

Real luck needs to go with preparation and you have to be able recognize the lucky moments and to be prepared for them. Both Mr. Player and Mr. David can make “lucky” shots because they’ve been preparing to make them. Then when they need to, they are able to do so.

Luck constantly flows and the key element is being able to get hold of the right moments when it flows in your favour. If one plays poker enough times, you’ll realize that throughout an evening of Poker, the various players will go through various lucky streaks where his or her cards will always be coming out tops. The one who survives and tops the evening, is the one who knows how to maximize his or her lucky streaks and minimize losses during the moments when luck is down.
How does one recognize when the flow of luck is against him or her. It’s the moment when you recognize that all the elements are there and all you have to do is to be able to bring all the elements together to make things happen. I had one of those moments two weeks ago. More successful people are the ones who work hard and prepare themselves for the right moments.

I think back to what Mr. Hoefer said. How does one recognize chance and how does one capitalize on it? I get lucky in PR and creating stories because I’ve had ten-years to prepare for it. I’ve been less lucky in other things because I’ve probably been less prepared and less able to recognize those moments.


Luck is probably the key ingredient between failure and success. However, understanding it and recognizing it is the skill that most of fail to master and as such miss the opportunities that are presented to us.  

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