I like to point out idiocy by “experts” when I see it. And management writing in Harvard Business Review is usually such a fertile field! Today, let’s look at idiocy about luck and being a great strategist from Hans H. Hinterhuber and Wolfgang Popp (“Are You a Strategist or Just a Manager?”, Jan-Feb 1992).
As Moltke observed, the good strategist also needs good luck….
So, if we assume that human beings force their destiny by virtue of their essential character, it follows that the luckier a person has been, the higher his or her level of strategic management competence. Conversely, it is possible to rate the level of strategic management competence by the number of external setbacks and blows of fate a manager has been able to absorb without being deterred.
Let’s recap: Someone who is lucky will continue to be so. They are great people. People who have been unlucky will continue to be so. They are bad people.
What absolute bullshit! Here’s why and why you shouldn’t listen to these idiots or their damnable nonsense.
What’s most troubling is how much people believe this. It’s actually what drives the “truth” here. People believe that someone who has gotten lucky will again. So they make that happen.
This has been shown in research. People will put their own efforts under the name of someone who has been labeled successful. You can’t touch these people once they get there, or at least it’s hard.
The reality is that luck changes. And luck is a large part of getting ahead in the world.
I’ll no doubt hear from entrepreneurialists among my clients vociferously disagreeing with this. “You make your own luck,” they say. Which is kind of true.
But not a lot.
Let’s take a look at what has been done to people to change their luck. One West Point graduate was considered one of the finest athletes in the world at his sport. He even went to war early. This was a guy who made his own luck, who took charge.
Then he saved a major operation from disaster. He was given a large command. But his luck failed. His career dead-ended. He was sent off into somewhere he would never do anything important, to be forgotten and de-careered. Even there, he continued to make things happen. People lived because of his ability to take success from total defeat, to make certain death into survival. But it did no good. His boss had destroyed his career.
When he got out, it was a massive recession. His business acumen failed at a string of efforts as the economy tanked under him. At the end, he was working for his brother and his wife and children were living with her parents. This is the picture of a bad penny brought low.
According to Hinterhuber and Popp, this was someone who could not be a great strategist. His luck was bad and a sign of his “essential character”.
This was a loser.
Except of course he would later become President of the United States. After winning a war that a string of commanders had been unable to move forward. And, just to top it off, afterwards writing a memoir that is widely considered one of the great works of American literature.
Then there was the guy who got lucky at birth and flushed it away. Born into a wretchedly poor minority family, he had the luck to be adopted by one of the nation’s elite families. He spent to midlife “passing” – appearing as someone of the dominant group – and living the life of the wealthy. Then he did something stupid, got caught, and ended up as a vilified itinerant ranch worker.
Another person whose “essential character” was shown in his lack of being to force reality.
Except that he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of all time and created one of the foundations of law. He even “won” the uprising against the elites and brought independent power to the minority from which he was born.
Yeah, Ulysses Grant and Moses would never have made decent strategists. They just didn’t have luck.
Don’t listen to people who malign your character because you got stuck even with your best efforts. Sometimes the odds are simply stacked against you.
And luck can and does change. You get luckier when you are in a place where the way you talk and think about getting things done lines up with the environment. Nothing works in every society.