THE BLOG

Getting Lucky at Work

06/08/2013 15:13 BST | Updated 05/10/2013 10:12 BST

Last week, I decided to try my luck in my local betting shop. Two days later, Kate and Wills came up trumps and named their new bundle of joy George - leaving me £100 better off and fairly pleased with myself. That was until I heard about Joan R Ginther, aka "the luckiest person in the world", who beat the odds (one in eighteen septillion to be precise), winning big on the lottery four times and racking up a total of $20.4 million.

We all know the type - perhaps not the Ginthers, but those people who simply have all the luck. So let's take a look at luck in the work place - who has it, why they have it and how you can increase your odds of getting lucky in your career.

There are things outside of our control that affect our luck which can have an arresting effect on career prospects. Let's break down what feeds into making us lucky:

1. Structural luck

Having access to quality education helps your odds enormously. The skills learnt and peers met at school and university help increase your luck throughout your career. In sport, structure and opportunities help kick things off too. Someone gave David Beckham a football and somewhere to kick it, Judy Murray sparked Andy's initial interest in tennis. But this isn't fail-safe - people from all places and backgrounds are both lucky and unlucky in work.

2. Lucky timing

As Malcolm Gladwell points out, 14 of the 75 richest people in America (ever) were born between 1831 -1840. Why? Because the 1860s and 70s welcomed the biggest transformation in the American economy - from Wall Street to Railroads. So if you were a business man at that fortunate time, you'd have higher chances of billion dollar success than those born ten years before or after.

As a year one financial analyst at an investment bank in 2000, you could have earned (with bonus) over £100k that year. Fast-forward to 2009 and the same level of analyst in the job would have earned less than half of that. A stroke of timely luck for the class of 2000.

Today, talented graduates are not all getting the same opportunities as those five or six years older than them, as graduate unemployment in the UK has jumped dramatically since the financial crisis. In Spain, the odds are even lower, with 50% of young people unemployed.

3. Relative luck

Even lucky people always think there are people who are luckier than them. There's an element of 'relative luck' - a 'keeping up with the Jones' luck' if you will. We tend to put more emphasis on other people's luck - whilst maybe not fully grasping our own. This relativity can act as a motivator or quite the opposite.

So what can you do to improve your luck at work?

They work hard

Gary Player, regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf, is famed for saying 'the harder you work the luckier you get'. He makes a good point. In sports, business and finance, the more experience and judgement you have, the luckier you will find yourself being. Putting in the hours will help - you'll hone skills, gain wisdom and forge stronger opinions and relationships. But to set yourself apart from your peers, there needs to be a real talent and skill beyond all the hard work. These people turn out to be the 'luckiest' of all.

They have a positive attitude

Pessimistic people tend not to be that lucky (in their opinion). Whilst there's some evidence to suggest that optimistic people are often too optimistic in terms of real outcomes, people with a belief in themselves and the future are more successful. They believe it's possible for individuals and organisations to change and improve, and often take personal responsibility to make things happen. They are also very resilient - they may get knocked off course but they get back on the horse and carry on.

They get exposed to more opportunities and exercise judgement

Lucky people get out there more. They network, they talk, and they get exposed to more opportunities - advice, jobs, offers, enquiries - that heighten their chances of success. The more you meet people - the more development opportunities you'll be exposed to and the luckier you will become.

They work well with others

Whilst being recognised for personal achievement, the best candidates, sportspeople and entrepreneurs are often quick to recognise their ability to pick and work with people who actively enhance their performance. This helps them improve, gives them leverage to do more and ultimately helps them to deliver improved performance.

So - multiple lottery wins aside - let's look past the almost mystic properties associated with luck and help improve our own odds. In life, it pays to work a bit harder at getting lucky.