Are Rich People Just Luckier Than You?

July 9th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Why are some people more successful than others?

A lot of people who claim to be rich and successful ? and I say ?claim? because we don?t know for a fact that they are — act as if it?s all them ? and that luck had nothing to do with it.

But the fact is, there are 6 specific factors that contribute to anyone?s success or lack thereof ? and luck is clearly one of them:

#1?Intelligence.

Some people are just smarter than others.

Intelligence is a result of genetics and environment ? your upbringing.

Since heredity and the home you are born into are purely by chance, intelligence is largely a matter of luck.

By the way, by ?smart? I don?t mean ?book smart.?

I mean smart at anything that can make money ? whether it?s business, art, computers, or whatever.

#2?Knowledge.

Successful people are students for life.

They are constantly acquiring specific knowledge in their business or field — as well as a large storehouse of knowledge on all sorts of other topics.

As a rule, the more you learn, the more you earn.

#3?Effort.

The clich? about working smarter, not harder, is B.S.

Successful people work both smarter — and harder — than others.

#4?Attitude.

Successful people have an attitude. But it?s not an attitude of ripping people off ? or making as much money as they can any way they can.

It?s an attitude of service: of giving their customers (and others) more value than they have any right to expect.

Many successful people are also goal-oriented, and it is important to them to become successful. So they focus their efforts on achievement of that goal.

#5?Aptitude.

We tend to be good at things we like and have an aptitude for.

Financially successful people just happen to have an aptitude and talent for things that make money.

Warren Buffett has said that the reason for his great wealth is that he was born with aptitudes and talents for which our society offers huge financial rewards.

Some of us are good at stuff, but not stuff that pays well. And if we pursue those interests exclusively, our incomes can be limited as a result.

#6?Luck.

As you can see, the key success factors of intelligence (#1) and aptitudes (#5) are determined mainly by chance ? and are largely beyond our control.

Yes, Warren Buffett studied finance, worked hard, and had the right attitude.

But he was also lucky, as is virtually every person who has achieved significant wealth, success, or accomplishment in life.

The honest ones admit this and are thankful.

Any rich or successful person who said luck had no part in his achievement is either in denial or unwilling to come clean.

Therefore, if you are successful, you should be humble, not arrogant and boastful.

After all, you were lucky. Right?

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36 responses about “Are Rich People Just Luckier Than You?”

  1. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob,

    I humbly submit that we create our own luck.

    Warren Buffett didn’t “get” lucky. He saved every dime he earned as a kid and then bought farm land and rented it out.

    Using that income, he went on to bigger and better things. He also lives beneath his means, another factor for creating wealth.

    It’s easy to say that successful people are “lucky,” when in reality they worked very, very hard to get where they are. Those of us on the outside don’t see the hard work — usually because nitty gritty hard work isn’t sexy.

    Wealth, fame, and fortune is.

    (Although, after watching various tributes to Michael Jackson, I don’t consider him lucky at all.)

  2. Bob Bly said:

    But Buffett HIMSELF says he was lucky. I paraphrase: “I’m just lucky I was born with an aptitude (for stock investing) that is rewarding handsomely in our society. I am short and slow. If I was dropped in the middle of Africa, I’d be eaten with a lion within 10 minutes.”

    And Michael Jackson was VERY lucky to be born with a gift for song and dance. Yes, in other ways, he was less fortunate.

  3. Kelja said:

    I believe in making your own luck, but luck – or those things you have no control in – also plays a big part.

    Michael Jackson, if he hadn’t been born into a musically inclined family with a overbearing father who demanded he practice and work on his craft, wouldn’t have become who he had.

    Buffet’s father was a successful stock broker/banker who undoubtedly influenced his son’s interest in investing.

    Mozart was trained relentlessly fron an early age by his father, a well-known musician/composer of the era.

    It is said that we gain mastery in skills only after 10,000 hours of purposeful practice. Once a person becomes an adult, the opportunity for this practice becomes difficult as other responsibilities become important — family, career, etc.

    Same with most influential and successful people. As much as we like to think of ourselves a self-made, the truth is that our early influences are critically important to how we turn out.

  4. Dianna Huff said:

    And I was “lucky” to begin my solo career right when the Internet took off.

    I would argue that rather than being “lucky,” Buffett and Jackson were both smart (and wise) enough to take advantage of their talents.

    That is where people go wrong, I think. Instead of working with what they have, they wish for something else.

    I always wanted to be in fashion — but have no idea how to put colors, textures, etc. together. So thankfully, I’m not in fashion. :-)

  5. Hesster said:

    I suggest reading the book ‘Talent is Overrated’ by Geoff Colvin. He argues that while innate talent may exist (there’s actually very little evidence that it does), it hardly ever has any relationship to how successful someone is at something. Neither does intelligence, or in some cases, experience. Hard work, good teachers, and lots of what he calls ‘determined practice’ are the keys to becoming great.

    When a regular golfer practices, he might go out to the driving range and get a few buckets of balls. He hits a few shots, and something doesn’t turn out right, he might figure that a certain element of his swing needs working on. So he does what he thinks might correct his swing, hits the rest of the balls and then goes home having spent an hour or two at most.

    When Tiger Woods practices golf, he goes out to a real course and practices specific shots, over and over. He might drop a ball in a sand trap, then step on it, and spend all day working on improving his technique just for this one shot, over and over. A driven in ball in a sand trap situation a golfer might see in a real game maybe once a season, and most would have no idea how to deal with. Tiger knows the best way to get out because he’s done it.

    Tiger is another seemingly talented young person who had a driven father who was both a teacher and loved golf. His dad started teaching him when he was less than a year old, sitting him in a high chair to watch in the garage while practicing his swing. He got Tiger his first club almost as soon as he could walk.

    Luck does have something to do with it, since if a tree falls on you, nothing else matters. For certain things, genetics has a good deal to do with it, you’re never going to play pro basketball if you’re 5’2″.

    The author even cites David Ogilvy as an example. We tend to think of people like Ogilvy and and Hopkins as prodigies. Ogilvy started in the advertising business later in life after trying many different jobs. When he finally came to advertising, at first he was nothing special. He even stated that his first efforts at advertising were terrible. No headline, huge blocks of boring copy, uninteresting pictures unrelated to the product… But he studied, he tested, he got feedback, he got a mentor, and he got better. Kennedy and Sugarman also said they cringed when they looked at their early attempts at selling in print.

    The idea of innate talent is both a crutch and a barrier. People use it as an excuse. We can become good at whatever we set our minds to.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    DH: You have indeed identified the big mistake people make — they pursue areas of weakness or mediocrity instead of going with their obvious gifts and strengths.

    They are taught this in school, where if you are doing poorly in math and great in English, they get you a math tutor to turn your D into a C … instead of encouraging you to spend even more time reading and writing.

  7. CopyOracle said:

    Nice insight, but for me being successful depends on what you tried to be or what you are. It all depends on your capacity to grow and be successful in your career.

  8. Copy Oracle said:

    Great article btw

  9. Dianna Huff said:

    CopyOracle,

    Bob gave me great advice one day and I still have it on a sticky note on my desk:

    Success is not were you are. It’s how far you’ve come.

    Hesster: I used to follow the Golden State Warriors basketball team in the 1990s. Chris Mullen, a short white guy, consistently made basket after basket and was very good.

    After every game, he threw 200 free throws before going in for his shower.

    Talent, hard work or “luck”?

  10. Ken Norkin - Freelance Copywriter said:

    I have always admitted that luck played a big role in my freelancing success. Yes, I found and won clients through my own marketing or through personal or business contacts. And I kept clients or earned referrals through my own hard work.

    But it was purely luck that when the ad business in general and tech and telecom marketing communications in particular slowed down at the beginning of this decade, I had some tech clients who were increasing spending rather than cutting back and some agency clients that were gaining business instead of losing it. It’s always been luck that some clients have picked up just as others were slowing down.

    AOf course, as the old saying goes: Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Or as Pasteur put it: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

  12. Lou Wasser said:

    If we assume that Bob’s breakdown of the elements of success is correct — and his breakdown seems reasonable — then the success-oriented person’s mission should be to devote himself strictly to those elements he can control.

    These are: knowledge, attitude and effort. There’s always someone smarter (intelligence); we have no control over who wins the lottery (luck); and we can’t control the hand we’re dealt (aptitude).

  13. Bob Bly said:

    Lou: as usual, I agree with you 100%.

    You CAN go against your aptitude and pursue something just for money, and some people succeed with this, but not me: I can’t think of a life more undesirable to me than working 10 hours a day at something you don’t love.

  14. Chard said:

    Personally, attitude and luck is the right formula to success. You can improve your knowledge by reading useful materials to become more intelligent. Moreover, we can still find ways that can give us satisfaction that can also give us the financial freedom we desire.

  15. Bob Bly said:

    Chard: I agree we CAN find ways that give us both financial freedom and satisfaction, though some compromise is usually involved. My original dream was to be a novelist. Today I write for a living, and I LOVE what I do, but I write copy, not novels. Am I happy? Yes. Are they the same? No.

  16. Dianna Huff said:

    Chard,

    You forgot perseverance and discipline. If I get up at 4:30 AM every morning to write for two hours, I will have a book in 3 – 6 months. No amount of luck will give me that.

  17. Paddu Govindaraj said:

    Bob, I strongly believe that there is an element of luck involved when someone becomes rich and famous. In fact many of today’s managers have become rich (ex. GM, Merril Lynch, etc.) by playing with the system and not necessarily by hard work, smart work or intelligence. As far as we measure one’s success in terms of money and wealth alone, it is difficult to say luck is not playing a great role in achieving the same. Also, it is a disservice to say that the millions of small business owners do not have the intellect, attitude, and aptitude – what these managers at mega corporations are assumed to have. Dianna might write tons of books, but what percentage of book writers have become millionaires? Certainly luck plays a role!

  18. Bob Bly said:

    DH: Getting up early and working an extra 2 hours a day is covered in #3 — effort. Perseverance goes beyond that to encompass the notion of not giving up in the face of failure and setbacks.

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  21. Stuart Stirling said:

    Interesting article Bob..I agree that these are all important for success but not all pivot on luck..luck is separate in itself. I think luck, just like knowledge can be increased with the right thinking and actions.

  22. Lou Wasser said:

    Stuart:

    I agree with your point – one that’s been noted many times, and attributed to luminaries as diverse as Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Goldwyn (“I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get.”)

    Usually, that good old Yankee formula works in two ways though. Arithmetically speaking, if you increase your amount of activity, more accidental benefit (luck) will come to you if you focus on activities earmarked for deliberate benefit.

    But hard work also lifts the spirit and makes you more alert, so that you’re more likely to recognize an off-the-wall chance for success (luck)while you’re working your plan.

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  24. Rafael said:

    For me, winning in lottery is just a pure luck. On the other hand, earning money through work need both right attitude (includes perseverance, discipline, effort, hardwork, etc) and luck. However, some people wanted to get richer, but they are not doing anything to make it possible. I mean, they want to earn more in the easiest way possible.

  25. Annuity Quotes said:

    Luck is struck with success but not always, Act is key factor of success. Without act there is no luck so we should concentrate at act.

  26. elise silva said:

    My name is Elize 19 years old I live in Rio I live with a man who is cheating on me. I don?t know what to do I loved him so much cannot believe he does this to me , never finished school he has very much money if I leave I don?t know what to do I come from a poor home , I will not beable to finish school and get a good job.

    Please anyone help me don?t know what to do , I don?t have any money !

    silva_elise@yahoo.com.br

  27. margaret irby said:

    One option is to get him to pay for your education and then leave once you can stand on your own two feet.

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  29. Jack Mower said:

    Aside from they are lucky, they just know how to handle opportunities that come on their way. Effort and mind-set are two of the factors that can greatly affect achieving one’s goal in life.

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