Do you see what’s wrong with this article’s headline? It’s not a definition of luck, it’s a formula for success. To a great degree, the specific opportunities that come your way are the luck piece. The hard work and preparation to be ready to deal with those opportunities, and the willingness to put yourself in their way, to see the good ones, and actually take advantage of them is all on you. The point is that success is born of being ready for and open to opportunities.

Get Ready

This part’s easy to understand and hard to do. You know it’s right. People have been making the point for centuries:

“Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality” – Seneca, Eliyahu Goldratt, and others

“Diligence is the mother of good luck” – Benjamin Franklin

“The will to win is not nearly so important as the will to prepare to win.” – Vince Lombardi

“The harder I work, the luckier I get” – Terry Pratchett, Stephen Leacock and boatloads of others

Start with your innate talents. Then study to build knowledge, practice to build skills and do what you must to gain experience.


Put yourself in opportunity’s way

This is all about being proactive.

Witness J. Paul Getty’s formula for success: “Rise early. Work hard. Strike oil.”

At first blush, it’s funny. When you’re done chuckling, look at the last verb, “strike.” He didn’t say “Wait for oil to find you.” Strike is an active, proactive verb. Striking oil requires a lot of research and often test wells.

You have to get out of your comfort zone, figure out where the opportunities might be and then take the risks to seek them out.

Putting yourself in opportunity’s way means you have to drive the train instead of just being along for the ride. Again, Getty: “Going to work for a large company is like getting on a train. Are you going sixty miles an hour or is the train going sixty miles an hour and you’re just sitting still?”


See the good ones

Of course, not all trains and not all opportunities are equal. If you’re going to sit still on a train, the same trip will take less time on an express than a local. Some opportunities are dead ends. Some are locals. Some are express. A big part of getting ready is being able to sort through the opportunities to choose the best.


Take advantage of them

By definition, taking advantage of opportunities means something has to change. As Stanford’s Dean, Robert Joss put it, you have to have “enough self-confidence to be open to help.” Steve Jobs, coincidentally in a Stanford commencement address advised, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Conductor, pianist and composer, Michael Tilson Thomas talks about the chance encounters that led to remarkable collaborations throughout his career. He walked out of an opera in Salzburg after five minutes and bumped into Eric Salzman who ended up introducing him to Stanley Silverman who invited him to conduct Silverman’s new opera at Tanglewood where Thomas planted the seeds of an idea that ended up becoming the New World Symphony orchestral academy in Miami.

When asked for career advice for an aspiring musician, Thomas explained that the table stakes are a “compulsion to play and share music.” That gives you a chance. Then, you have to “hold on to that wonder and inspiration” to keep going and be open to possibilities – opportunities.


Putting it all together

(Double meaning intended)

Professional golfer Lee Travino said, “Only bad golfers are lucky. They’re the ones bouncing balls off trees, curbs, turtles and cars. Good golfers have bad luck. When you hit the ball straight, a funny bounce is bound to be unlucky.”

The analogy works.


  1. Get ready by putting in the hard work and preparation required to hit the ball straight.
  2. Put yourself in opportunity’s way by getting out on the course and taking your shots.
  3. See the good ones and take more high probability shots than low probability ones.
  4. Take advantage of the opportunities you face, being open to help from others, staying hungry and foolish and holding on to your sense of wonder and inspiration.


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #764) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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