How to manufacture luck

The game of luck and why every parent, teacher and person should know the rules.

I’m disappointed in myself. It’s recently come to my attention that people believe that I naturally love getting up at 4:45 am in the morning, exercising and writing. And that I have a lot of “luck”, that I always hit my goals and that I have an innate level of intelligence. The truth is: I don’t.

The reason why I’m disappointed is because this perpetuates the “luck” myth: some people are lucky and  if you’re not one of the lucky, then give up. Or don’t start. This myth discourages us from believing in ourselves, seeing our own value and, consequentially, suffering from low self-esteem, low motivation and a anaemic sense of responsibility for one’s successes and failures.

I’ll admit, luck does have a lot to do with how things unfold in our lives (bet you didn’t expect that one!), but not how you think. Luck is a game, not a given. And once you’re able to understand the rules of “luck”, then you’ll be able to rig the game in your favour.

A quick story on how luck benefited me will elucidate the rules of luck.

Stumbling upon the game of luck

I was and am not “the smart one” in my family. My older sister is. She’s a genius (no exaggeration) and teachers loved her. And here’s how I got lucky:

  1. Teachers assumed that I was just as brilliant as my older sister. They unquestioningly loved me and encouraged me. They gave me the benefit of the doubt despite the fact that I was not that capable, to put it lightly;
  2. My teachers expected that I’d excel just as well as my sister. And I expected the same of myself because that’s just what we all have to do. Excuses or leniency were concepts beyond my little brain. So I had not choice but to do it;
  3. I’m a classic middle child who had a classic middle child upbringing. This meant that I craved adult approval and attention outside of the family. I got it from getting good grades. This emotional drive for my teacher’s approval (a powerful tool) motivated me to meet or exceed expectations; and
  4. I had no idea that my sister didn’t have to work hard to get good grades. I thought everyone had to study at least 6 hours a day… in grade four.

Why is this lucky? Because, as it turns out, if people believe that you are smart, driven and successful, they unknowingly help you become these beliefs. In other words, everyone rigs the game in your favour and then they tell you and everyone around you that you were “predestined”.

I told my parents about my “lucky hunch” and they (read: dad) laughed and told me that everything is innate and that we have no control over the outcomes of our lives….Guess what, (dad), they were wrong. Because this hunch is a real heuristic called the Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect.

Parents and anyone who manages people – pay attention to this effect – it could make or break your child or employees.

Clairvoyants and manufacturing luck

Thirty years ago, the brilliant leaders of the Israel Defense Forces were tricked by a psychologist named Dov Eden. Dr. Eden told the IDF that he could predict who’d become the top performers before they ever started training. He poured over the assessment results of the IDF applicants. From this information alone, he identified who of the group would emerge as “stars” during the training period and, sure enough, and much to the amazement of the IDF, he was bang on.

The identified “stars” scored 9 to 10 percent higher than their peers in almost all categories during the training period. Was Dr. Eden a clairvoyant? Did he have a secret sauce? No. He simply drew upon a classic study conducted by the Harvard psychologist Robert Rosenthal. A study that may have ruined a bunch of children’s lives….

Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson believed that a child’s performance was related to the teacher’s expectation of the child. In other words, reality (the child’s “innate” abilities) can be altered by the observer (teacher). This alteration creates a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby the teacher’s expectation that the child is innately brilliant will result in the child being brilliant. Here’s how the study worked:

All students in a single California elementary school were given a disguised IQ test at the beginning of the study. These scores were not disclosed to teachers. Teachers were told that some of their students (about 20% of the school chosen at random) could be expected to be “intellectual bloomers” that year, doing better than expected in comparison to their classmates. The bloomers’ names were made known to the teachers.

At the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ-test used at the beginning of the study. All six grades in both experimental and control groups showed a mean gain in IQ from before the test to after the test. However, First and Second Graders showed statistically significant gains favoring the experimental group of “intellectual bloomers”. This led to the conclusion that teacher expectations, particularly for the youngest children, can influence student achievement.

Two simple steps to manufacture luck

This week’s blog stems from this study and offers the following conclusion:

  1. Challenge your views about yourself. Remember that your abilities to a large degree are not innate, but rather a product of circumstance and the viewpoints of other people. This means that you should ignore that grade one teacher or the harsh parent who defined you as uncreative, lazy, stupid or a “failure” and strive (if you want). Aggressive analyze the origins of these definitions and understand that they’re nothing more than opinions unlikely based on fact….as Rosenthal pointed out.
  2. Get cheerleaders: These people are critical. If they think you’re great, then they’ll help you along by opening up doors and giving you the introductions you need to move forward. Getting cheerleaders is simple. Just show a willingness to learn, work and take criticism.

Follow these two steps and remain persistent and watch how your luck suddenly changes.