by David V. Lorenzo
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Lorenzo’s book, Career Intensity: Business Strategy for WorkPlace Warriors and Entrepreneurs, Ogman Press. Read our review of the book.
Have you ever wished for that one lucky break that would allow your dreams to become a reality, or reflected upon someone’s success and envied their luck? If so, you’re not alone. It has almost become a cliche to say someone is lucky. There is a degree of chance that is involved in everything in life. It seems that everyone is chasing luck but only a select few ever catch it.
A survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and the financial services firm Primerica revealed that 40 percent of Americans with incomes between $25,000 and $35,000 — and nearly one-half of respondents with incomes of $15,000 to $25,000 — thought that winning the lottery would give them their retirement funds. Overall, 27 percent of respondents said that their best chance to gain $500,000 in their lifetime was via a sweepstakes or lottery win. Even more astonishing is that this survey was conducted in 1999, during the stock market boom of the dot-com era. Untold numbers of people were becoming rich overnight by investing in the stock market or by starting up companies in their garages, yet a substantial portion of the American public still thought they could rely on luck to make themselves successful.
To become successful, you must make a decision to pursue success. You can’t leave it to chance. People who have Career Intensity make personal choices that are in line with their passion, their goals, and their tolerance for risk. They break through limiting beliefs and realize that they always have choices. Before you can move forward, you must give yourself the permission and the willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. Then, when you create the conditions in your career that will help you capitalize on opportunities as they arise, you will be in the position to reap the rewards of your journey.
Four Qualities that Attract Success
Louis Pasteur, the famous French scientist, said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” In order to prepare yourself to welcome success, you need to replicate the mindset of high achievers and create your own luck.
Over the years, I have found that top performers — whether they were entrepreneurs, company executives, superstars of the academic world, or emerging leaders in business and public service — share four common qualities that draw opportunity toward them. Although these traits are often dismissed as being soft, they are the common denominator in those individuals who appear to be lucky, but who in fact attract success like a magnet. In sum, they take calculated risks; they create a positive environment for themselves and everyone around them; they work hard at making things simple; and they follow the 80/20 rule.
I: Take Calculated Risks
Successful people take risks — the possibility of damage, injury, or loss — in order to capitalize on opportunities. Risk-taking is a part of everyday business and everyday life. If you are a strategic thinker (as discussed in Chapter Three of Career Intensity), you are already contemplating the potential consequences of every decision and have prepared contingency plans that you can put to work if things don’t go your way.
There are certain types of risks that you can almost never proactively address. These are the risks associated with accidents, natural disasters, or another unexpected calamity. To address these issues, you transfer the risk by purchasing insurance. Super-achievers have emergency plans in place to deal with the aftermaths of these types of situations. They review them on a regular basis and they assess their insurance coverage to make certain that it is up to date and sufficient for their needs.
The type of risk that most people and most businesses face each day is the risk involved in making decisions. This is referred to as speculative risk because the possibility exists that the outcome could be either favorable or unfavorable. The risk taker is speculating on the potential result of the decision. Successful individuals win these situations most of the time; the outcome is favorable more often than not. In order to win they use a four-step process to aggressively evaluate each opportunity.
- Assess and eliminate the risk of doing nothing. You may often sit back and wait for others to take the lead in a situation that contains an element of risk. Occasionally, the appropriate decision for a given set of circumstances is to take no action whatsoever. A top achiever is excellent at assessing whether or not action is warranted in a certain situation. She works to immediately quantify a situation and determine if doing nothing is a viable option. If it is not, she rules it out instantly. She does this even if she does not yet know what the appropriate course of action may be. She views the first step in the process of making a risky decision as deciding whether doing nothing could be an option.
- List the proactive steps that could positively influence the outcome. For a successful individual, the next step in evaluating risk is to list all of the potential actions that could be taken immediately to reduce the risk of the decision. What information could he gather? How much information would he need? Who are his resources? What can he do right now to get up to speed on the situation? He lists the answers and enlists people to help in gathering the necessary information.
- Live the Triple A rule: Always Avoid Assumptions. Assumptions have been the cause of more than one bad decision. A top performer does not take risks unless she has built a fact-based foundation for her decision. This intense individual always avoids assumptions — particularly when dealing with risk.
- Play the odds. When making a decision, a successful individual always tries to understand the odds involved in his choice. He looks at the probability of a favorable outcome vs. an unfavorable outcome. Is there anything that can be done to increase the likelihood that the outcome will be favorable? Can he take steps to minimize the chance of unfavorable events? He only takes risks when the odds are in his favor.
II: Creating a Positive Environment
In discussing success with the leaders of every field of endeavor, they all mention creating a positive environment and having a positive attitude as necessary prerequisites for success. These leaders often say that most of their inner strength comes from the positive feelings they engender when doing things for others.
There are two main ingredients necessary to create a positive attitude. To truly be a positive person — a person who will welcome success and make your own luck — you must create a positive internal environment as well as a positive external environment. This means that you must not only surround yourself with positive people and reminders of your unlimited potential, but you must also master your internal self-dialogue. You cannot afford to have a single negative thought in your head. Just as negative people can drag you down, negative thoughts can become embedded in your unconscious mind and undermine your attempts at success.
People like to be around those who are kind and fair. They like to be near people who offer them hope and who view the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. People like to be around others who laugh and enjoy life. All of these things are part of having a positive attitude. In being positive, you project an image that attracts others to you.
A positive environment is one in which people feel good about themselves and the work they are doing. They enjoy working with one another and look forward to coming to work. A positive environment is one where people give of themselves not only to make money, but also because they have a sense of higher purpose — a sense that they are contributing to something that is larger than their individual needs.
One of the best ways to create a positive environment in the world around you is to give of yourself to others. Many highly successful individuals give huge sums of money to worthy charitable causes. A large number of these folks make their contributions anonymously. They do not want to be publicly recognized for their giving. They give because it makes them feel good about themselves. It helps them influence their environment in a positive way while allowing them to give something back to the community.
Beyond making a financial contribution to a worthy cause, many top achievers give their time and expertise to others. Those who feel most fulfilled give as a part of their everyday jobs. Many business leaders view teaching as leading and they help foster a positive attitude in their organizations by requiring knowledge sharing, both formally and informally.
Kindness is a very powerful way to create a positive external environment. This is a word you do not often hear in the corporate world. It is much more popular to be a tough guy and to give the impression that you don’t take any crap from people. While it’s true that you should never allow others to take advantage of you, your family, or your company, and that you should crush your enemies, those two principles are not at odds with a philosophy of kindness. Kindness and living a positive life or career will provide you with the strength to help you defeat people who have malice in their hearts — people who want to take what you have earned.
Try this exercise and tell me if it improves your attitude; Each day, take 15 minutes to write at least one note to someone in your address book or email contact list. In this handwritten note, make sure you identify something that you like about them and at least one reason why you are grateful for them being associated with you. Not only are most people genuinely touched when they receive such a note, but the process of writing it allows you to reflect on the positive aspects of your relationship with this particular person. When you engage in this process:
- Keep it clean. Make sure you don’t have an ulterior motive or hidden agenda. If you do have an agenda, don’t write a brief handwritten note. Instead, use traditional business correspondence and state your purpose for writing — your agenda — right up front.
- Make sure it’s handwritten. Handwritten notes are personal, so make sure you write clearly and from the heart. Do not be afraid to express some emotion. Things like “Your comments at our recent meeting really made me feel good about our friendship,” are not inappropriate.
- Use regular mail and buy a real stamp. When your note arrives, it will appear less formal and more personal. This will show that you cared enough to take time out of your day, to buy a stamp, and walk to a mailbox.
- Keep it short. Don’t use this as an opportunity to pour your heart out. All that is necessary are a few lines to let the recipient know that you find them valuable.
III: Working Hard to Make Things Simple
Have you ever met someone who loves to complicate things? They relish showing you how smart they are by making a concept or procedure so difficult that only they can understand it. These people don’t get very far in business and often become politicians. In truth, it is much more difficult to simplify than it is to complicate. Although the word “simple” often gets a bad rap, since it is often used synonymously with “inferior” and “substandard,” making things simple is one of the qualities that can help you create your own luck.
You have already simplified your life by creating and focusing on your goals. This will help you streamline you approach toward your career. Simplicity plays an important role in creating luck through your interactions with others. There are three ways successful people make sure their relationships are uncomplicated:
- Exercise common sense. Don’t impose unrealistic expectations on others. If you ask someone to complete a task for you, first make certain that it is possible. It can be a challenge, but it must be possible. Next, make certain that it is ethical. You should never ask someone to do anything that would in any way compromise your integrity or theirs. Finally, ask yourself if you can live with the most extreme results of your requests or actions. Common sense in dealing with other people is the best way to keep things simple and a great way to draw in your own luck.
- Maintain an external orientation. Always try to see things from the other point of view. It’s easy to get caught up in your own agenda and fail to see how the other person may view your behavior or actions. A successful person — someone with Career Intensity — views the world with an external orientation. He examines each action from the perspective of an outsider. This helps give him a clear picture of the issue at hand before he proceeds. He checks his ego at the door and he takes the best course of action — not just because it is best for him, but because it is also the right thing to do.
- Remember that wishing doesn’t make things happen. Hope is a great tool for staying optimistic and positive, but achieving your goals requires action. Do not make decisions based upon things that you hope will happen. Make decisions based upon concrete evidence, past precedents, or the resources that are available. Keep wishful thinking out of the decision-making process. You will thank yourself later.
IV: Follow the 80/20 Rule
Many people call the 80/20 rule The Pareto Principle, since it is often attributed to Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country (as measured by land ownership). Pareto observed that 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the land. In the late 1940s, Dr. Joseph Juran took Pareto’s name and his description of the economic state of Italy in 1906 and used it to describe his “theory of the vital few and the trivial many.”
The underlying theory is that a few (20 percent) greatly influence the outcome of a situation and the many (80 percent) have a limited impact. When he applied this theory to manufacturing, Juran discovered that 20 percent of the defects in products were causing 80 percent of the problems for customers. In working on a project, you can almost always predict that 20 percent of the work (the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) will take up 80 percent of your time. There are literally hundreds of examples of the few requiring more resources than the many.
Although this law should not be interpreted literally, a successful individual uses it to her advantage every day. She focuses her time and effort on the vital few things that influence the greatest results. She uses this as a form of mental leverage. She focuses on the most productive aspects of everything she does and works around or delegates the least productive aspects of her work. Perhaps the greatest proof of this principle lies in your own life. Think back to something that you are particularly proud to have accomplished. On a sheet of paper, write down all the tasks that you performed in order to bring about this achievement. As you look at those tasks, think about those that were hi