#1484 Q: Hard Work or Luck?


In our last couple +1s, we’ve spent some time with Jim Mattis learning how he learned how to lead.

We started with the fact that a leader’s JOB is to solve problems. Then we learned that one of the best ways to learn HOW to solve our problems is to READ. A LOT.

Q: Are you functionally illiterate?

If you haven’t read hundreds of books, Mattis says you are. 🤓 🤗

Today I want to talk about luck and hard work.

Mattis tells us: “So here I was—offered an opportunity. Biographies of executives usually stress achievement through hard work, brilliance, or dogged persistence. By contrast, many who achieve less point to hard luck and bad breaks. I believe both views are equally true.”

He continues by saying: “Following the attacks of 9/11, when Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan became the target, I was the next up to deploy. As Churchill noted, ‘To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.’”

And, he says: “Thanks to Vietnam veterans, at this ‘special moment’ I was prepared and qualified ‘to do a very special thing.’ While six months earlier, it would have been someone else leading our Marines into Afghanistan, mastering your chosen vocation means you are ready when opportunity knocks.”


Is it luck or hard work?

Mattis says: “YES!”

As I read that passage, I thought of a slightly different take on that Churchill quote I have memorized and recited to myself well over 1,000 times. I also thought of some Teddy Roosevelt wisdom from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. And, I thought of Jim Collins’s scientific studies on luck.

First, the Roosevelt quote.

Doris Kearns Goodwin tells us: “Any man who has been successful, [Theodore] Roosevelt repeatedly said, has leapt at opportunities chance provides.”

Now, the Churchill quote.

Churchill tells us: “There comes a certain moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity, when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission—a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment, he finds greatness. It is his finest hour.”

Mattis’s version is roughly 10x more powerful.

We must be prepared to seize that opportunity.

Are you?

In Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, Jim Collins tells us that all companies experience good and bad luck.


The GREAT leaders know how to get “a return on luck.”

Do you?

Collins also tells us: “You can look at life as a search for that one big winning hand, or you can look at life as a series of hands well played. If you believe life comes down to a single hand, of course, you can easily lose. But if you see life as a series of hands, and if you play each hand the best you can, there’s a huge compounding effect. Bad luck can kill you, but good luck cannot make you great. As long as you don’t get a catastrophic stroke of bad luck that flat-out ends the game, what really matters is how well you play each hand over the long haul. How will you play this hand and the next—and every hand you’re dealt?”

And, he says: “Imagine if after having been booted out of Apple in 1985, Jobs had said ‘Well, I got a really bad break, a bad hand. Game over.’ What if he’d lost his work ethic and his passion? What if he’d turned hurt into bitterness, instead of creating and moving forward? I used to think of Jobs as the Beethoven of business—a particular creative genius with a compositional body of work (the Macintosh as his third symphony, the iPod as his seventh, and the iPhone/iPad as his ninth). But my view has changed. I’ve come to see him more as the Winston Churchill of business—a hyper-resilient soul who exemplified the simple mantra, ‘Never give in, never, never, never.’”

That’s Today’s +1.

Let’s do the hard work so we’re prepared to take advantage of the opportunities to do what we’re here to do.

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