Luck, good and bad, happens to everyone, whether we like it or not. But when we look at the 10Xers (ten times success), we see people like Mr. Gates who recognize luck and seize it, leaders who grab luck events and make much more of them.
There's an interesting asymmetry between good and bad luck. A single stroke of good luck, no matter how big, cannot by itself make a great company. But a single stroke of extremely bad luck, or an extended sequence of bad-luck events that creates a catastrophic outcome, can terminate the quest.
The 10Xers exercise productive paranoia, combined with empirical creativity and fanatic discipline, to create huge margins of safety. If you stay in the game long enough, good luck tends to return, but if you get knocked out, you'll never have the chance to be lucky again. Luck favors the persistent, but you can persist only if you survive.
After finishing our luck analysis for "Great by Choice," we realized that getting a high ROL (return on luck) required a new mental muscle. There are smart decisions and wise decisions. And one form of wisdom is the ability to judge when to let luck disrupt our plans. Not all time in life is equal. The question is, when the unequal moment comes, do we recognize it, or just let it slip? But, just as important, do we have the fanatic, obsessive discipline to keep marching, to push the opportunity to the extreme, to make the most of the chances we're given?
Getting a high ROL requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life and not letting up. Bill Gates didn't just get a lucky break and cash in his chips. He kept pushing, driving, working - and sustained that effort for more than two decades. That's not luck - that's return on luck.
Jim Collins is the author of the worldwide best seller "Good to Great."