There are lots of complicated statements around luck and success. For instance, how lucky was Zuckerberg to have been at Harvard for college when he was? He obviously saw an opportunity and turned it into Facebook, but do you think it's even conceivable he could have done that had he not happened to have been a student at Harvard? What if the Winklevoss twins had never approached him in the first place? What if he never met Sean Parker? There were a string of things that had to line up for the story to evolve the way it did, and none of them were in Zuckerberg's control.
It's very easy to come up with examples of people just being unlucky. You could be born with a serious illness. Your child could die during birth. It's easy to think of situations that are just awful and there is nothing you could have done to prevent those awful things from occurring.
There are lots of simple statements around luck and happiness. Nobody argues whether or not you're lucky to be born rich, healthy, tall, attractive, etcetera. But people argue over whether or not intelligence is driven largely by nature or by nurture. Experts even argue over whether or not happiness itself is largely determined by genetics.
The general takeaway is luck is by definition what you cannot control so it's a fool's errand to try to do so. But success is what happens when luck stumbles across someone who was prepared to take advantage of it. Zuckerberg may have been lucky to have been at Harvard when he was, but he immediately saw the opportunity and turned it into Facebook - and (love him or hate him) he deserves credit for that.
If Yahoo had purchased Google Larry Page and Serge Brin would also likely just be engineers at some random company and not leaders of one of the largest/richest companies in the world.
Reading Creativity Inc, about Catmull and Pixar there was so much luck. Catmull was president of Pixar and now President of Disney Animation but Pixar would probably never have existed if Lucas had sold them to someone other than Steve Job. It also wouldn't exist if Jobs had been unwilling to lose 70 million on trying to make them a computer company and then giving them a chance to pivot to animation and instead shut it down. Catmull would likely have been a successful engineering manager but he would not likely be in his current top position.
I don't at all agree with the other statements in this thread that suggested people in these positions are top level skilled vs others. People see these people's skills through rose colored glasses of their success.
If you have to earn luck; what is being unlucky? Someone earned a succession of crap?
It is maybe predetermined since the beginning of the universe how (un)lucky I am if only we could track every particle since the big bang (or whatever booted up time and space) but that is not very helpful if the economy crashes and I get some horrible disease just when I launched my new venture.
Of course it doesn't work much with gambling, so I guess there is a cost function that needs to be considered too.
people who are the most successful are better than 99.9% of the people in the same field or area. They know the subtleties and intricacies of mastery that elude the majority of people.
Zuck had been doing coding and other projects for years before creating Facebook. He didn't just overnight come up with this idea and learn all the skills needed to create it. This was a decade in the making for him.
Quite a few years ago I lived a few bus stops from the venue of the yearly PHP conference in Hungary but somehow I never went. Just didn't seem worthwhile or something. In 2004 May, a friend of mine called on a Sunday he is going to attend the roadshow of said conference in a shitty rural city in Hungary with his brother driving and whether I wanted to tag along. I shrugged and went. Still have no idea why. That's when I first heard of Drupal, it wasn't visible at all back then despite I was heavily researching CMSes just then. Being present at that roadshow was luck. My meteoric rise from financially struggling Hungarian web developer to internationally acclaimed Drupal developer and architect of a Top 100 web property only five years later was, however, the result of me pouring practically every awake moment into Drupal (I believe it was a Google Summer Of Code mentor questionarie which asked how much extra time are we spending with our project and I still remember when I was like, I am not spending any extra time because that'd be impossible). The finances aligned. When I attended my first Drupal developer come together in 2005 February in Antwerp I needed to borrow money from my parents for the plane ticket and couch surf for I had no money. I bought a apartment right down on the beach in Vancouver in 2009... And yes, this seemed unreal and it still does, walking home every time fills me with a sense of "this is too good to be true".
As the old saying goes, "luck is when opportunity meets preparedness".
You were prepared for this by evidence of you research into CMS's at the time. This enabled you to see the opportunity Drupal created. You clearly ran with this and your success followed.
How many other people were there that didn't find the type of success you did? They were just as lucky to be at that conference at that time as you. If anything, you were lucky to have had the insight to see the potential an investment in Drupal could make and clearly it went beyond your wildest dreams in terms of financial and professional success. But even then I'd hesitate to call it all luck since you clearly saw that CMS's were becoming an important technology and Drupal in particular must have fused what you knew about CMS's and what could be possible.
Ha that's right.
What I must have seen but failed to put into words is https://dri.es/drupal-sucks-less:
All content management systems suck, Drupal just happens to suck less. — Boris Mann at DrupalCON Amsterdam, August 2005.
Typo3, Tikiwiki, Phpnuke (heaven forbid), XOOPS, even Mambo/Joomla, these were the systems of the day. Drupal ... sucked less and gained a lot more marketshare.
But some people are just born rich. Some people are just born healthy, attractive, and even happy! Research suggests half of life satisfaction is determined by your genes.
What's luckier than winning the genetic lottery?
By virtue of not being born there I'm better off than the vast majority. Sure, I work hard at what I do. I'm also lucky a series of lucky and unlucky events transpired the way they did in order for there to exist an opportunity for me to work hard at something and do well.
Luck is 90% of it for pretty much everyone.
The conflict behind the story is whether your suffering is the result of something random or meaningful. Someone who does the best they can at a lesser university and gets lesser results is not a result of randomness, but the meaning (or properties, qualities) of being at a lesser university and the choices made beforehand.
Attributing randomness to big successes undermines the hard work that a lot of people go through to get one step up the chain.
Further, the path to Harvard if he had been born in say India’s slums is rather tricky especially when compared to having wealthy US parents.
Note strange attractors do exist, so cities would be likely to form around rivers rather than atop mountains. That however says nothing about the people or cultures that would live there.
I've seen enough people mess it up from all positions in life that I commend the good choices people make (apart from Zuckerberg's hot button issues) to achieve a life worth living well. That has a meaning to it, and going through suffering to get there.
This is my entire argument. There's a much easier way to phrase it though: life's not fair.
As I understand it GP's argument was that, yes it may have been luck to meet the right people at the right time, but that a lot of conscious decision and discipline went into being in the right position at the right time beforehand. Reading it that way, life is fair, since it rewarded the work previously put into building up a life's success. Another way to say it would be: If facebook hadn't made Zuckerberg a billionaire, something else would have made him at least a huge success (the stellar kinds of successes that people like Zuckerberg experience are probably still insanely unlikely even in the world of billionaires)
“...and the you die”
Not my quote, heard it from a colleague
Life's a bitch and then you die.
So fuck the world and go get high.
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.
The probability of me stumbling upon this informative gem would have been pretty low if I hadn’t been lurking around HN.
The path to success is to make the correct decisions over and over again even if you fail the first 5 or 10 times. Of course if your definition of success is to be a billionaire you will likely never succeed but if it's to accumulate a reasonable amount of wealth or to achieve some measure of success in your field then it isn't as impossible as everyone is telling you.
You’ll get your share of luck, but get to make decisions every day
A better title would be: “An overly broad definition of luck leads to luck having a greater role in life.”
I do believe that luck plays a huge role, but I get GP's point and I think it's fair.
 I think what really drives it home for me is not knowing successful people, but knowing people for who it didn't work out, despite them seemingly making all the right moves.
Let's say you have the potential to be a great cricketer, but you're born in a country where cricket is not even played.
Or you (the great cricketer) could be born in India and be a millionaire by 20.
Ok, so let's hear it?
This way a casino player would still be lucky if she wins (but not in the ‚oh my gosh, how lucky are you that there exists a casino in the first place!‘-sense) and a successful person could still have her achievements honored even though there happened a lot of stuff before she entered the stage (like, ‚how „lucky“ was Newton that he didn‘t have to start from scratch, right?!‘)
I think the premise is simply not correct - that involvement of luck undermines personal achievement. Especially when many people get to be in the same lucky conditions, but only some of them achieve success.
I understand that instinctual reaction of many will be to significantly downplay others' personal achievements based on perceived involvement of their lucky circumstances. We see that sentiment often here on HN. But it should be countered by asserting that it is a silly way to look at things, not by defining "luck" in a weird way.
Aren‘t circumstances like country of origin, financial situation of one‘s parents or genetic disposition more commonly referred to as privilege?
Perhaps they are in the US, but not where I live, so I'm not used to making that distinction. And even if common, I'm not sure it is a useful distinction.
If I were feeling cynical, I would say that privilege seems to be the kind of luck you're supposed to feel bad for having. Maybe that is useful for rising awareness of certain societal problems, but I'm not yet convinced.
This was an interesting discussion. Thank you and have a nice weekend!
But his luck continued when IBM decided they wanted to outsource creation of an OS for their personal computer. He deflected IBM to another company, who, to this day, must be kicking themselves for messing up the opportunity, only to take on the task himself. His skills/company weren't great in that direction, having his mother on the IBM board saved his bacon many times over.
Once he cashed that lottery ticket in, his more business minded friends saw to it that it was exponentially more valuable than anyone could have imagined.
Whilst Bill was certainly skilled, there was more than enough luck involved for everyone.
The more you live, the more you realize that much of life is beyond your control. When you were born, where you were born, even the opportunities available are all out of your control.
Not to mention that there are only a few spots for success and even if everyone worked equally hard, most will fail while the few succeed.
Gates had 3 major turning points in the fortunes of Microsoft. It's hard to attribute all three to luck.
Lucky sperm for example has some heavy overtones. Our language might be getting in the way.
And luck goes both ways, good luck or bad luck, we are all way way luckier just by being alive today
It seems to conflate luck with randomness.