Luck as a Competitive Advantage in Design

A famous Woody Allen quote is that "80 percent of success is just showing up." If there is any truth in this, then people who believe themselves lucky probably show up more often than people who believe themselves unlucky and therefore stay at home in their beds. Can one's perception of their "luckiness" become a competitive advantage?

Napoleon Bonaparte believed so, and allegedly when once asked whether he preferred a good general or a lucky general, without hesitation, he chose the lucky general.

In contrast to buying a Lotto ticket or betting on a horse where one has absolutely no influence over the outcome, people are in charge of their life and can make decisions. However, one can never judge the quality of a decision on the outcome, since factors outside our control are often in play. A good decision can have a bad outcome ... and a bad decision can have a good one. One can however, combine logic and intuition and hone both of these valuable tools in the process.

In design, it is all about decision-making. What to include and what to exclude in a concept and deciding who might be the target customer, as well as, which features constitute a winning concept and which will create an inferior rejected concept. And then, you may be wrong.

When Apple launched the Newton, the first personal digital assistant (PDA), in the mid nineties, with more features than the technology at the time could support, the company crashed so badly that they halted any further development. They missed the PDA boom of the late nineties and this inaction cost them dearly in lost opportunities.

Then, when Apple Computers introduced the successful iMac, they opted to exclude a CD/DVD drive and missed the whole lucrative CD/DVD burning opportunity, but they quickly showed up again with iTunes.

Since it's founding on April 1 1976, in Jobs' Garage in Los Altos, California, Apple Computers has launched about a hundred new products and we can all recall their hits, the Macintosh, iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. But the company has also had a string of misses including Newton PDAs, iCube and AppleTV.

In 1997, when the company's actions had taken it ninety days away from bankruptcy, to stay relevant and without anything new to show, they launched the "Think Different" ad campaign and the rest is history. They kept being lucky by working hard and showing up and in 2011 became the biggest company in US history.

Seneca, a first-century Roman philosopher said, "Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet." So, opportunities are only opportunities for someone who has done their homework and those who feel themselves to be "lucky" might spot these opportunities more readily.

In these turbulent times, when predictions are not always possible, having confidence in one's luck may make all the difference between taking inspired action or not acting on that opportunity or great idea after all.