The luck myth, debunked.

A couple Ideasicle Podcasts ago, Jonathan Fields, author of “Uncertainty. Turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance,” talked about a fascinating study around the concept of luck that I found to be so profound that I decided to call special attention to it here. University of Hertfordshire professor, Richard Wiseman, invited two groups to his study:

  1. A group of self-proclaimed “lucky” people
  2. A group of self-proclaimed “unlucky” people.

He gave the individuals in each group a newspaper and asked each person to count the images in it. Get this. On average, the “unlucky” people took about two minutes to count the images, and the “lucky” people took only seconds!


Well, here’s the kicker. On page 2 of the newspaper, there was a gigantic “ad” that said “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” The self-proclaimed “unlucky” people stuck rigidly to the task of counting images and didn’t see the page-2 ad. The self-proclaimed “lucky” people were far more likely to see the ad and stopped counting as soon as they did.

Luck is what happens when you’re open to the unexpected.

Do you realize how big a deal this is, and the lessons it teaches all of us to help navigate everyday life?

The time it took these people to count the images had nothing to do with luck. It had everything to do with how these people perceive, and interact with, the world. Or, as Fields put it, their “mind-set.”

People who consider themselves to be “unlucky” are simply not as open to new information, information that could have a dramatically positive effect on their situation. People who are “lucky” are so because they are open to new information and, so, can take full advantage. Now, extrapolate that concept beyond this study to all the information surrounding anyone at any given time. Are you open to the unexpected?

“Lucky Ideas” Happen When You’re Open To Anything.

Making counter-intuitive connections is the foundation of creativity. People who are good at doing so almost look lucky when they do it. And they will often attribute their “Aha!” moments to luck, saying things like, “I couldn’t believe it. We just started working on this ‘Product X’ project yesterday and while walking to the office today I saw a juggler on the street and it got me thinking. What if we…”

An unlucky person would say, “See, he’s lucky he walked by a juggler.” But that wasn’t luck, that’s someone being open to seemingly disconnected information. If it wasn’t a juggler, it would have been something else.

In fact, creative people often jokingly say they have “ADD” (attention deficit disorder). But they may not be far off. During a more recent podcast with Sian Beilock, the author of, “Choke. What the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to,” Sian talks about people with real ADD and how their “disability” actually proves quite valuable when it comes to creativity. People with ADD have a hard time focusing on the task at hand, but are wildly good at noticing everything that’s going on around them. As such, they are better at making counter-intuitive connections in the world, connections which, again, are the DNA of the creative act.

So, let’s stop with the luck thing. Let’s start with the look thing. Let’s stop waiting for things to happen to us, and start forcing the coincidences. Look around, notice stuff, interact with your world. It’s all there for you. For your creativity. For your ideas. Just waiting to happen.

Lucky you.

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