We say Good luck! to people we wish well. And many of us have our own good luck charms and rituals. But does any of it make a difference? Do we really make our own luck?
Watch the video and answer the quetions below.
1 Why have human beings always believed in luck?
2 What does one in five Americans do to prevent bad luck?
3 Why are optimistic people luckier, in Karla Starr's opinion?
4 How long had John Hamm been an average actor before luck came his way?
5 What two jobs does Michael Kearns do?
6 Why isn't a good idea to buy lottery tickets?
7 Why did Fieldwork get lucky?
8 In sociologist Duncan Watts' opinion, what does success depend on?
9 How did he feel when he first saw the Mona Lisa?
10 Why did the Mona Lisa become famous?
Whether you’re hitting the slots in Vegas or running for president, you probably could use a little luck.
How would you define luck?
Luck itself is beating the odds. You have a power over your destiny.
But that’s a very powerful thought!
It is a powerful thought, and I think we all have it in some way.
Mathematician Joseph Mazur harnesses his luck by writing about it. He says there’s a reason why people have believed in luck since the caveman days: It helps us cope with life’s uncertainties.
We know the present, we know the past, but that future is really… we want to be sure that we have it all under control. Many people have some lucky charm, like a rabbit’s foot.
Or whatever else gives them that elusive feeling of control: One in three Americans believes that finding a penny brings good luck. One in five knocks on wood to ward off bad luck; and about that same number avoids walking under ladders. Is this nuts?
There are things that you can do to increase your luck, and increase your chances.
But that implies that we have control over luck.
Do you think we do?
I think we do, absolutely!
This is good news!
Unlike the superstitious masses, writer Karla Starr claims to have luck down to a science, even naming her blog The Science of Luck.
Do you think you are lucky?
It’s that upbeat attitude that makes lucky people lucky, she says. Think positive, and things will turn out that way.
There’s a lot of research showing that optimistic people do make their own luck, because they have a higher self-esteem, and so they’re more likely to persist after failure.
Take actor Jon Hamm, before he landed his starring role on Mad Men, Hamm had been acting in relative obscurity for more than a decade. He simply kept at it.
All it takes is that one audition.
But is that luck?
I think for anything in the arts, or anything where there’s that little element where someone has to be chosen by someone else, there is an element of luck, there is a little bit of randomness that is outside of your control.
So this is the science of luck?
If we are lucky, it will end up being a little bit of it, perhaps.
For University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Kearns this is what luck really looks like.
This is basically a curve representing a kind of a representation of your payoff as a function of a probability of event.
He writes algorithms designed to control luck in investing.
Many people on Wall Street take a pretty scientific approach to thinking about luck and to shaping their luck.
Along with teaching, Kearns works for a hedge fund coming up with luck-shaping formulas combining a stock’s history with the client’s appetite for risk.
I’m gonna compute what the optimal portfolio or mixture of stocks would have been to maximize your payoff.
To make me lucky!
That’s right. Exactly.
But the science of luck goes out the window when it comes to other get-rich-quick schemes we love. Take the lottery ... no, on second thought, don’t!
Your expected payoff is negative, right? You expect to lose your money.
You never bought a lottery ticket?
I have never bought a lottery ticket.
Come on! Everybody…
I have never bought a lottery ticket.
Not one lottery ticket.
Not one lottery ticket.
You don’t like lotteries much as an investment strategy?
No, I don’t.
OK, so by now you’re probably feeling pretty lucky. With the right algorithm and a little optimism, you, too, can be rich and happy, right? Not so fast. At your local bookstore, you may find an entirely different story, like the one behind the award-winning novel.
There is a book called Fieldwork... It did okay, it didn’t do very well.
Until it got an astonishingly lucky break ...
Stephen King walks into a bookstore…
The Stephen King?
The Stephen King. He picks up this copy of a thing called Fieldwork. He goes on, reads it, he thinks it’s wonderful and he writes for Entertainment Weekly, he said this is… essentially he’s saying, this is the great American novel.
And that’s probably all it took?
He was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Talk about luck!
In other words, luck is not something we control. Stuff just happens.
The world, in some sense, is just intrinsically random.
Sociologist Duncan Watts, a principal researcher at Microsoft, says success is mostly arbitrary.
So the Mona Lisa is probably my favourite example of the role of luck in success. It’s probably the most famous painting in the world and the most famous painting in history. And yet if you’re like me and millions of other people, and you went to the Louvre, and you finally saw the Mona Lisa, you might have been just a little bit disappointed. You sort of look at this painting, and you think, Really? That’s what all the fuss is about?
The fuss all began with a series of chance occurrences.
The Mona Lisa really only started to bet famous in the last century. It sort of sat in, you know, in palaces of kings for, you know, a couple of hundred years. This young Italian who was working at the Louvre was apparently disgruntled that this, you know, masterpiece that rightfully belonged in Italy was sitting in France. And so he stole it. It sort of became this kinda media fiasco and really drew a lot of attention to this painting.
You’re saying that absent that, it might never have become famous?
I suspect that absent that, it would never have become famous.
So the Mona Lisa got lucky?
So the Mona Lisa got lucky!
But what about the actual painting? Was Leonardo onto something, or is the Mona Lisa’s fame just blind luck?
I could do a painting and, you know, no matter how much hype it got, it’s unlikely it would be put in the same category with the Mona Lisa.
It’s not that the things that succeed don’t have to be good in some sense. It’s that there are many things that are equally good and could equally have been as successful, and we’ve never heard of any of those things.
So if you could rewind the world and let luck play out again, Watts says there might not be a Mona Lisa or a Bob Dylan or Harry Potter, all of whom benefited from being at the right place at the time.
There’s some little random accident that happens early on and then that builds on itself, and that builds on itself, and then many years later, we have this huge effect that we are unable to explain except by saying this thing is unique and special.
Do you think you’re lucky?
Our CBS News poll found seven out of ten Americans feel the same way. They are mostly lucky, and as luck would have it, that includes everyone we interviewed.
What about you?
I do think I’m a lucky guy.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
Some things are just luck.
Many, many things are just luck.
1 it helps us cope with uncertainties in life
2 knocking on wood, avoiding walking under ladders
3 because they have a higher self-esteem, and so they’re more likely to persist after failure
4 a decade
5 he teaches (University of Pennsylvania professor) and works for a hedge fund
6 we expect to lose money, so we'll never be lucky
7 because Stephen King wrote a very good review of it
10 because it was stolen from the Louvre museum, which attracted a lot of media attention