If you’ve never read Jim Collins’ work, then you’re missing out on one heck of a researcher and author. His work primarily pertains to the business world, but the concepts could certainly be applied in non-profits and governmental organizations as well.
Collins teamed up with Morten Hansen for his most recent project, entitled Great By Choice (affiliate link). The Living for Monday team read Great by Choice as our May book of the month and boy, were there some great lessons gleaned as a result. The primary question that was being investigated in the book is this: why do some companies thrive in times of great uncertainty and even chaos?
I won’t go into detail about the entirety of the book, but one concept stuck out in particular that I want to share with you today. That concept is return on luck.
In their research, Collins and Hansen showed that great companies are not subjected to any more luck (good or bad) than comparison companies that had much lower returns in the markets during times of uncertainty. But, what they did find was that great companies capitalized on luck (good or bad) when it struck to a far greater degree than the comparison companies.
The great companies were able to capitalize on lucky events through preparation and execution. What that means is that the companies prepared by setting aside reserves of cash, constantly evaluating their situation, and keeping their eyes open for any potential changes on the horizon. When lucky events happened to hit, they were ready. Because they already had fanatic discipline, productive paranoia, empirical creativity and ambitious goals engrained in their organizations, they were able to execute sufficiently well to get great return on luck. Amazingly, even when bad luck struck, great companies showed a tremendous capacity to capitalize on the event.
Ok, so maybe I’m much more fascinated by this empirical study and research-based results than you might be. But this begs the question, so what? Who cares? Why does this matter to you?
It matters in a big way, because so much of our career search is out of our control. We can do everything just right, but at some point we are at the whim of the decision-making process of another person — even when we are a linchpin, indispensable to an organization.
This means that we have to be prepared when luck strikes. Whether good or bad luck comes our way, we must prepare today so that we are ready no matter what happens.
Collins gives a great framework for preparation — one that can be translated to an individual career seeker.
Here are fours things to have in order to ensure you maximize your return on luck when it comes your way:
- Discipline- Have fanatic discipline by learning as much as possible, and researching the various career fields in which you have interest. Don’t cram it all in to one day, but make it a regular practice to research, learn, and repeat. Learn about companies, learn new skills, and learn about yourself — particularly your values, passion, strengths, and dreams.
- Anticipation- Practice productive paranoia by always anticipating the things that could go wrong in the career search. What if the market takes another downturn? What if you find out you’re no longer interested in a given industry? What if, what if, what if? Know what you would do in each situation.
- Creativity– Make yourself empirically creative by trying different things. Instead of a three month long internship, why not connect with 12 different business owners in various industries and go to work with each for one week. Remember what you like, and put the things you don’t like on a list of things to never do again. Collins calls this firing bullets, then cannonballs. Take it from me, you don’t want to wait until you’ve accepted your first job offer to find out you aren’t really that passionate about the career path you’ve chosen.
- Ambition- Have level 5 ambition — set goals that will inspire you to work hard, continue to dream, and change the world. Big, hairy audacious goals are important. Write them down, spell them out, and understand what it will take to make them happen. Then, have the discipline to follow through, steadily and over time.
So there’s a crash course in maximizing your return on luck as a career seeker. The key concepts in this blog post are derived from Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen. If you loved reading, and want to learn more about what makes companies great, I would highly recommend that you pick up a copy of the book today.