Research and Insights

If You're A Genius, You're In Luck


What do an investment guru, a man who helped design the Louvre, and a six-time NBA champion all have in common?

This question is not the set up to a punchline. And the answer could change the way we think about circumstances and how we approach opportunities.

We have all heard, “Great minds think alike,” and what an investor, an architect, and an athlete have in common has to do with how they think.

Statements from interviews with Warren Buffett, I.M. Pei, and Michael Jordan reveal at least one, common, transparent thought, one that you could potentially use to forward your success: they think they’re lucky.

Luck is a Mindset

On the one hand, anyone can see why those who rise to the top would credit luck for their success. But “being lucky” is not an attribute on the same level as “being right-handed.” If we listen to the greats, “being lucky” is a prerequisite mindset for success.

Richard Wiseman, in his book, The Luck Factor (2003) writes, "Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a way of thinking and behaving... it is actually defined by the way you think."

There are unique expressions of this mindset, as unique as the three people highlighted above. And these expressions could be adopted by any leader, in any field. Anyone – head of sales, R&D, finance – anyone can think this way and in turn, create his or her own expression of luck and success.

Sufficiently Lucky

“Luckily I stumbled into the thing that I do best, and it’s worked out…You know I never look back. I don’t worry about anything. I consider myself unbelievably lucky. So the idea of saying that I could have been even a little luckier—this or that had happened—you know I could have been a lot better looking, or I could have been a better athlete—so what? You play the hand you get, you play it as well as you can, and you’re thankful if you’re lucky enough.”

– Warren Buffet(Ko, 1999)

One expression of a lucky mindset is recognizing that what’s done is done, what you have is what you have, and you make the most of it. This way of thinking is in direct opposition to, “We can’t do that in a market that is clearly tightening” or “There is no way to grow without new products…”

In business and in life, it can be very easy and obvious to see places where the math doesn’t add up; we are all well-trained to see what’s missing. In aspiring to the highest levels of performance, the gap between what you have and what you need will naturally widen. It takes effort and strategy to look at what you do have and make the most of it, especially knowing “something better” is out there. Lucky people make good use with what they have, build on it, and spend little to no time wishing that things were different. 

No Pomp in Circumstance

 “I’d have to say that I feel very very proud to have a hand in (the design of the Pyramide du Louvre), but I cannot say it without also mentioning that it’s a piece of great luck. I happen to be here… at the right time and circumstances is what I continue to reflect on—what made it possible for me to participate in this historic undertaking. It’s something of great importance in my life.”

– I.M. Pei (Rosen, 1997)

There are two elements present in I.M. Pei’s expression of being lucky: pride and humility. When it comes to our accomplishments, the tendency is to choose one or the other, but not necessarily both. While there are those who will readily accept praise, there are others who will completely credit the circumstances.

Being lucky does not dismiss your involvement in the achievement. Being lucky is a balance of appreciating your hard work and talents, and also studying the conditions of a favorable circumstance. Recognizing your agency in the accomplishment while simultaneously appreciating the conditions that have aided your success could give a winning formula for creating repeatable, future success.

The Glass is Full

“If I could ever pass anything on to my kids, it would be to be optimistic about everything in life… When my father died, I had him for 32 years. I was very lucky. I looked at it as being lucky, not as being disappointed that he wasn’t around anymore. I was lucky that he was there when I needed him that he could influence my life to look at situations that I use to help voice my decisions to this day.”

– Michael Jordan (Kempf & Stern, 2000)

Being lucky does not equate to never experiencing disappointment, setback, failure, or loss. As a mindset, being lucky is a choice. How people view their situation at critical junctures has bearing on their eventual success or failure – just think of the very things you have overcome to be where you are today and how your attitude towards those circumstances shaped your success.

In the pursuit of consistent, extraordinary performance in today’s marketplace, there will be supply chain disruptions or currency devaluations. But if we take Jordan’s example, the event itself does not dictate luck. It’s the person viewing the event that has a say about what happened. No matter what happens, luck is in the eye of the observer.

Trying Your Luck

If luck is a mindset, and not an attribute, then it is all about appreciation and making the most of opportunities. Success visits those who look for and appreciate it. Talking about oneself as “lucky” creates that mindset and a view of the world that actually has you see the opportunities right in front you where others may not. Recognizing and taking advantage of what you do have opens up multiple pathways to succeed at the goals you are pursuing. It might just be that authentically thinking of yourself as being lucky creates luck.

Take a look at your current circumstances and skillsets. What do you have that you can “be lucky about”? What skills have you not yet given enough credence to? The more appreciation and awareness we bring, the more chances we’ll have to rise to the top in our own areas of expertise. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of yourself as lucky.


Kempf, D., & Stern, J.D. (Directors). 2000. Michael Jordan to the Max. USA: Giant Screen Films.

Ko, D. (Director). 1999. Buffett & Gates: on Success. USA: KCTS Television.

Rosen, P. (Director). 1997. First Person Singular: I.M.Pei. USA: Peter Rosen Productions.

Wiseman, R. (2003). The luck factor: Changing your luck, changing your life, the four essential principles. New York: Miramax/Hyperion.

About the Author

Jodie-Ann Pennant is a co-leader of the Leveraging Genius Institute, as well as a consultant at Gap International. She leads the team in harnessing and leveraging the best thinking of organizations to consistently achieve the highest levels of performance. As a consultant, she works with clients in industries around the globe from pharmaceuticals to consumer goods. She has been instrumental in the company’s research, development and exploration of their most leading edge work.

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