Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 5, 201411:28 PM

It's All Just Dumb Luck

Selling a lot of books is very hard. Making a video go viral is very hard. Creating a billion dollar company is very hard.

It's a story that I will never forget. Back in 2008, I was prepping the release of my first business book (Six Pixels of Separation). I was very excited because the book was going to be the lead business title for Grand Central Publishing - which is a part of the largest book publishing company in the world (Hachette Book Group) - and the senior-most executive at the publishing house wanted to meet with me. I was excited. I was nervous. If you could close your eyes and imagine what the head editor of the largest book publisher in the world might look like, you would have the right visual of this powerful, smart and compelling individual. A beautiful corner office with a view, that is decorated with awards, celebrity author paraphernalia, photos of this individual with Presidents, royalty and more. As we sat down on the couch for a coffee, they leaned in and quietly said, "Mitch... I love your book. We all love your book. It's a fascinating space and you have captured it perfectly. We are thrilled that we're publishing it and look forward to its success..." and then there was a long pause. They finished the sentence with: "now, all we need is lightning in a bottle."

Wait. What?  

Write a book that one of the world's most esteemed editors loves, get signed to a global deal by one of the largest book publishers in the world, get to be the lead title for their back to school season, and it's all going to be dependant on how lucky we get? It's a situation that I have known and dealt with for decades. Back in my music industry days, I would face this story on a weekly basis. A band would release an amazing album on one of the major record labels, that was supported with a ton of marketing, featured a great producer, with an amazing tour to come, and it would be crickets and tumbleweeds in terms of record sales, seats sold and general media interest. I could rattle off hundreds of bands who should have been huge from the eighties and nineties while others (some might even argue less-qualified) got the accolades, attention, fame, sex, drugs and well, you know.

In the end, is it all about luck?

I am thinking about luck a lot lately. I'm not the only one. Just yesterday, I saw two really interesting articles on Mashable about Facebook (titled: 'It Was Just the Dumbest Luck' -- Facebook's First Employees Look Back) and the meteoric rise of the most frustrating game, Flappy Bird (titled: How 'Flappy Bird' Went From Obscurity to No. 1 App).

Check out these quotes...

  1. Ezra Callahan was Facebook's sixth employee. Here's what he says about it: "It's humbling to know I was part of something that became such a phenomenon around the world. Every day, I recognize how it was just the dumbest luck in the world to have been in the right place at the right time." 
  2. Doug Nguyen is the indie developer who created Flappy Bird. He never did any type of marketing or advertising for the game and simply said, "The Popularity could be my luck."

Is it just all dumb luck?

You can imagine how many articles, blog posts and book have been written on the subject of luck. I've often referred to this "secret sauce" that seems to have no known recipe in the success of things of other stuff. We would like to think that true success happens when someone can match passion, intellect, dedication and effort against a cause. We would like to think that if you just put your nose against the grindstone, something is going to give. We don't want to believe in something "other" (and no, I'm not talking about any religious figures here). Still, when you speak to those we would consider the best of the best, they often default to some type of comment about just how lucky they got. Sure, go ahead and dump all of the catchy quotes below about how a lot of hard work makes people lucky, I still find it fascinating how there are always these random forces at play. The things that make one video go viral and another, equally compelling piece, be a dud. It feels like luck usually does have something to do with it, regardless of what the data jocks tell us and the puritan hard workers. 

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

By Mitch Joel


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