Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business
Thor Muller and Lane Becker
April 2012
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Technology, as one of my favorite instructor-mentors reminded me a few years ago, is far more than mobile phones and augmented reality. It’s any tool that helps us accomplish what we set out to do. Using that definition, we can easily view luck as a technology that is receiving increasingly large amounts of attention—and it prompts us to ask how we can use luck effectively in our training-teaching learning.

Those of us who heard business consultant-author-lecturer Jim Collins discuss luck during his keynote address at the 2012 ASTD International Conference & Exposition in Denver a few months ago walked away with a deeper appreciation for what we could do to increase the likelihood that we would benefit from good luck. Equally importantly, Collins helped us understand what we could do to see ourselves less as victims and more as potential beneficiaries when bad luck seemed to come our way. The chapter on luck in Collins’ most recent book, Great by Choice, explains further that there are any number of ways that we can treat luck as a tool and, through our actions, make ourselves more likely to benefit from luck—good or bad.

Thor Muller and Lane Becker, in Get Lucky, have become the latest in a growing number of writers exploring how our actions can make us appear to be magnets for good luck and beneficial moments of serendipity. They provide a good introduction to the topic for those who are unfamiliar with works by Collins and other authors, and they help frame the concept of luck as a tool we can develop in our various and varied endeavors—including learning.

Muller and Becker suggest that there are eight skills we can hone to foster luck to our advantage and, by extension, to the advantage of those we serve. Again, there’s little that is new here, but it’s a serviceable introduction to the topic.

  1. Engaging in motion—movement that puts us in contact with others in ways that lead all of us to success—is a great starting point, they suggest as many before them have.
  2. Preparation—lots of hard work—is another skill that they identify as being common among those who seem to be luckier than others. This, too, is an idea that has received widespread attention, particularly through Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers a few years ago.
  3. Diverging from the trunk of our individual metaphorical foundational tree and exploring various branches extending from that trunk further takes us down paths that foster luck.
  4. Commitment to the basic principles and goals that provide a level of consistency to our efforts can further promote luck.
  5. Activation—“designing people to respond to the world differently than they ordinarily would have”—is a fifth skill to be added to our luck as technology tool kit.
  6. Next up on the path to cultivating luck is commitment to creating meaningful and productive connections.
  7. Creating permeability between the various facets of our lives and experiences can nurture luck.
  8. Finally, there is attraction—the “uncanny ability” some people have “to draw serendipity to themselves” as if they were magnets for good luck.

What’s interesting here for trainer-teacher-learners is that each of these important skills is already familiar to us if we’re successful in our work with those who rely on us. And our willingness to continually incorporate them into our learning spaces—onsite as well as online—helps us extend that sense of luck to the learners who in turn use what we have helped them develop.

Get Lucky, however, inadvertently serves as example of what they suggest in terms of being lucky or unlucky. When they diverge from the familiar, they are completely engaging and inspiring, as when they describe a creating learning space—Brightworks, an innovative private school within a refurbished warehouse—for young learners in a less-than-ideal section of San Francisco.

Another example is when they show us how Texas-born Flora Grubb put her love and knowledge of gardening to work to create the wonderfully attractive and highly successful San Francisco business that bears her name and that inspires many of us to go out of our way to visit the shop and grounds, enjoy a cup of coffee, and admire and relish a unique oasis of tranquility in an area we otherwise would avoid completely. When we begin to understand how lucky

Brightworks and Flora Grubb are, we also begin to understand how we can build, foster, and sustain that sort of luck for ourselves and others.

Muller and Becker, on the other hand, appear to be somewhat unlucky in that so much of what they write is already familiar to some of us. In addition to the sources cited above (Collins and Gladwell), an obvious example comes to our attention early in Get Lucky. Two of Muller and Becker’s strongest case studies (3M and Pixar) are already overly familiar to the numerous readers who devoured Jonah Lehrer’s recently released book Imagine—before the publisher withdrew it because of Lehrer’s own self-created bad luck (the discovery that he had fabricated quotes). The inclusion of 3M and Pixar offer no new insights and makes us feel as if we’re now reading outtakes from another recently published work.

We can’t entirely blame Muller and Becker for the apparently bad luck of having their book published so soon after Lehrer’s book was published since both books were obviously in progress at the same time. But we can, in a Get Lucky frame of mind, say they partially contributed to that bad luck by not avoiding those already well-documented success stories and, instead, spending a little more time uncovering and documenting lesser-known examples as they did with Brightworks, Flora Grubb, and at least a couple of others that they didn’t include in Get Lucky but did describe in a TEDxOxbridge talk while the book was in progress in 2011.

As trainer-teacher-learners, we can learn from that example and see that there are ways to increase the chances that we will be lucky in what we do and are already doing:

  • prepare
  • diverge from the familiar
  • commit to what is foundational in our work and efforts
  • foster connections that serve our learners, our organizations, and the customers and clients we ultimately serve
  • develop the magnetic attractions that make it seem as if good luck is drawn to us.

As students and proponents of learning technologies, we can walk away from Get Lucky, Great by Choice, and other variations on the theme with a greater appreciation for and ability to utilize luck as a technology worth nurturing.