Don't kid yourself. You're not all that brilliant.

I recently read an interesting piece over at the Harvard Business Review about how much luck there is our decision making process.

Good luck, bad luck, fate.  Whatever.

Of course this was written from a secular view point.

I’m not sure I’m a believer in luck.  Or coincidence.

In many ways… being a Christian changes you view of things, doesn’t it.

But here’s the premise.

When you’re at the point of making a decision on anything, the circumstances that bring you to that decision point are usually pretty much out of your control (at least somewhat).  The writer calls this ‘luck’.  Here’s an excerpt:

The chain of events that brings you to a choice point will be shaped by luck, good or bad. Prior circumstances may determine whether you’re in a position of power or relative weakness. (For that matter, luck governs whether rain or sun that day will make your mood sour or buoyant.) And the same is equally true for everyone with whom you deal.

Philosophers, political theorists, and strategists have long acknowledged the large role that luck plays in every aspect of our lives. Even Nicolo Machiavelli, the cataloger of each and every lever that a prince can pull in the pursuit of power, acknowledged that “I believe that it is probably true that fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half to be controlled by ourselves.” What was true in Italian politics centuries ago is just as true in management today.

So, why does acknowledging this help business decision makers in any way? Once we acknowledge how much depends on luck, we do two things differently, I think.  First, we study decision making differently, no longer assigning brilliance to every decision that, viewed retrospectively, worked out well. Second, we might focus on different skills as important to important decision points, such as the flexibility to capitalize on changes in luck versus the ability to predict in advance how things will play out.

For better or worse, the intelligence, values, and needs of whomever you interact with impact your success as much as your own resources. Throw in external circumstances that are beyond your control (whether other deals for them fall through, as they did for IBM), and it’s obvious that your destiny isn’t entirely in your hands. Understand this and you act differently, knowing that your own skill will be tested by how well you play the cards you are dealt.

Of course, I wouldn’t call that luck.  Maybe providence?  God’s will?  God’s hand?  I’m not sure what to call it.

But nonetheless… the point is a good one:

You really shouldn’t gloat in your good decision because what lead up to it wasn’t probably entirely your doing.

Same with bad decisions.

So… it turns out that none of us are as brilliant as we’d like to believe.

Somehow, I’m not surprised.

When I look back at my life’s ‘circumstances’ and where I am today… I’m not sure that there are any circumstances.

What I’m doing today is based on what God brought my way.

Some things were in my control and within my decision.

Most were not.

But it’s all good.

It’s a wise thing to keep in mind whenever you start getting a little proud of the way things are going.

Just remember… it probably had little to do with you.  🙂

We just have to strive to make good decisions where we’re at.  Don’t worry about who the credit goes to.  (After all… we know where it should go anyway).

What do YOU think?


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