This article by MOI Global instructor Robert Leitz has been excerpted from a letter of iolite Partners, a value-oriented investment firm based near Zurich, Switzerland.

Over the last few years, I have become somewhat obsessed with studying highly accomplished people in business, technology, sports and philosophy. The idea is to learn from them, according to Warren Buffett’s gospel: “Surround yourself with people better than you and you’ll drift in that direction.” One of my favorite “classes” is the U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR) podcast “How I Built This” hosted by Guy Raz, where Guy allows successful entrepreneurs to tell their “rags to riches” story.

After having listened to several episodes, I would summarize the patterns I see as follows:

– Successful entrepreneurs pursue a practical approach to fulfill certain needs. Those could be entirely unfulfilled ones or improvements to existing products and services. According to most of the entrepreneurs interviewed, they were obsessed with developing a product or service, not making money (or so they say).

– All interviewees worked very hard in a very hands-on way. I am often surprised as to how simple their original setup was, and how much they did themselves to get the business off the ground. In most cases, it took years before they delegated key responsibilities, and they continued to be involved in many hands-on tasks as their businesses grew. It is astonishing what one can achieve by just picking up the phone.

– They approached everything as a learning opportunity, and failure never stopped them. Almost all of them faced severe resistance at multiple points in time, and it was their stubbornness and persistence that prevented them from giving up.

– Almost all interviewed entrepreneurs are good storytellers. I acknowledge that it is easy to tell your story once you are successful (and by the time you make it on national public radio, you are probably well trained in telling your story).

At the end of the interview, Guy’s last question tends to be: “do you attribute your success to luck, hard work, a combination of both, or something else?” The answer tends to be: a combination of both. Most people credit a healthy portion of luck, but also their hard work, persistence, and the support from a few friends that helped along the way. An often-expressed view is that their approach and dedication made luck happen.

“Making luck happen” really struck my interest. It took me a while to realize the power and relevance of this skill and that the concept applies to all walks of life. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that success — and happiness — depend on the way people approach life.

Richard Wiseman, a British psychologist, researches the nature of luck and his studies have been published in the Skeptical Inquirer. According to him, people largely make their own good and bad fortune. He thinks it is possible to enhance the amount of luck that people encounter in their lives. In his conclusion, lucky people tend to create their own luck by four principles: 1) they are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, 2) they make “lucky” decisions by listening to their intuition, 3) they create self- fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and 4) they adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Wiseman thinks unlucky people are generally much more anxious than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected. The more they look, the less they see. Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent to find the perfect partner and miss opportunities to make friends. They look through newspapers determined to find a certain job type in job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. In contrast, lucky people are more relaxed and open, and as a result see what is there rather than just what they are looking for. Many lucky people go to considerable length to introduce chance and luck to their lives. Lucky people — who are optimistic, resilient, open to new ideas, and ready to take chances — are more likely to be successful entrepreneurs.

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