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Is There Such a Thing as Luck?


Who said, “luck happens when preparation meets opportunity?” Some may say Oprah Winfrey. However, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who first coined this aphorism. But are things as simple as that? Are there other causal factors in play? Why are some people so lucky, while others couldn’t get a kick in a stampede?

I take the view that there are in fact two forms of luck – the sort of luck that is statistically probable and luck that is apparently unexplainable. Sometimes, both can be leveraged for better or worse outcomes.

You may prefer to regard luck as divine providence, cosmic tumblers clicking into place or karma. I’m not here to redefine or pass judgement on your belief systems. However, I do ask you to consider the events and outcomes in life that cannot be predicted with any certainty.

As affiliate marketers, we rely on our wits and work ethic and wait for the magic to happen. I’m talking about statistically probable outcomes here. However, it happens sooner for some than others. In affiliate marketing, even when all things seem to be equal, you cannot expect identical outcomes. Nevertheless, experience teaches us that things do fall into balance, but over a period of time that we cannot forecast with complete accuracy.

The Good

Golfer Gary player carried a very positive – even entrepreneurial – mindset onto the golf course. You may wish to Google Player, his quotes and philosophies. You will discover that his belief systems align with those of many great business leaders and that for a time – after Palmer and before Nicklaus –  he was the best golfer in the world.

He was interviewed by Golf Digest magazine in 2002 and recounted the following anecdote:

“I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, “You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in.” I holed the next one. Then he says, “You got $100 if you hole the next one.” In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, “Boy, I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my life.” And I shot back, “Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

“The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” What a fantastic affirmation. It wasn’t original though, as Player himself later admitted, but it was one of his core beliefs.

“Do your duty and a little more and the future will take care of itself.”
~ Andre Carnegie

Consider this: a successful, professional golfer will go that extra mile when it comes to practice and, whereas, a good weekend golfer may consistently chip the ball out of the green bunker to within feet and sometimes inches of the hole, he or she will only rarely chip the ball into the hole. Gary Player very likely chipped the ball within inches of the hole or into the hole consistently, and this was easier when he’d already chipped a number of practice shots onto the green to gain a point of reference and to augment muscle memory.

Let us assume that when chipping out of the bunker onto a green, with a known roll direction and speed, that Player could consistently hole two or three out of five. One could easily conclude that there would be a reasonably high statistical probability that Player could either hole or fail to hole three in a row. The fact that he holed three in a row involved a degree of luck. Even so, Player thrived on pressure.

If he had decided to go into marketing, I believe certain he would have met with equal success – provided he had a passion for it.

Gary Player

The Bad

Of course, the opposite is also true – the statistical probability of a negative outcome. Consider the following ‘blokey’ example: If a ‘bloke’  walks down the street with an aggressive disposition and starts randomly insulting other men, there is a high statistical probability that one of them will throw a punch. There is nothing unlucky about that outcome. It will be the result of a certain mindset and an unchecked determination to take action. Yet, whether, it is the first, fifth or twelfth offended male that chooses to react with violence is a matter of chance – unless we know something about the men involved.

Let’s say we later learn that one of the insulted men was a criminal with an unapparent predisposition for violence. Yet, on this occasion, he did not react to provocation because he had just been released from custody, on bail, for a crime of violence.

Affiliate marketing is similar in this respect. Just as you have good reason to assume that the criminal I just described would be our puncher – unless someone else reacted first – you can never be certain who will be first to click your ‘Call to Action’ button or why. You will get better and better at targeting markets, but there will always be a need to split test multiple site features to assess the effectiveness of added content and potential improvements to your site. You will frequently encounter unexpected results, both good and bad. Success lies in scaling and leveraging the good outcomes.

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not advocating violence here. It’s so easy to get yourself into trouble these days. There are people who may react indignantly to both my ‘blokey’ model and violent allusions. However, will it be the first or twentieth reader? You can make an educated guess – based on survey results and behvioural studies – that perhaps one person in ten will find this offensive. But, will it be candidate one or candidate twenty that first takes exception?

The Ugly

If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.

~ Mildred Lisette Norman – Peace Pilgrim

Consider the cautionary tale of poor George Spencer, the first Colonist to be executed in Connecticut on April 8th, 1642. He was negatively inspired and known to be a godless troublemaker and petty criminal, and he was not an attractive man. He was described as being bald, one-eyed and pig-like.

So, when the pious puritans of New Haven, Connecticut discovered that a local sow had delivered a misshapen, one-eyed, stillborn piglet, it was assumed that George was the father. Really! I kid you not.

During the trial that ensued, George was promised mercy if he confessed his ungodly sins. He was quick to cooperate – he’d seen a man whipped for less. However, when it became clear that it was God’s mercy that would be extended to the penitent George, and not the mercy of the court, he retracted his confession.

In any event, the magistrates were faced with a legal dilemma – they required the testimony of second witnesses to establish George’s guilt beyond doubt. Apparently, as things stood, it was George’s word against the piglet. The sow, it seems, had little to say on the matter.

The court resolved this problem by deciding that George’s original confession should stand and that the stillborn piglet – evidence of George’s guilt and God’s displeasure – would be recognised as a second witness.

George and the sow were both found guilty and executed. He was hanged, and the sow was put to the sword.

Clearly, there was a high statistical probability that George was going to fall foul of the puritans one day. It was a near certainty. There is an even greater probability that George did not father the piglet. I hope we’re on the same page about that. But, where is that seed of equivalence that Napoleon Hill promised could be found in every failure or heartbreak?

Moreover, the consequences of George’s unpopularity were so incomprehensible and severe – even by the standards of that time – that I claim he was very unlucky.


Lucky or Unlucky?

If the trial and fate of George Spencer don’t leave you scratching your head, the tale of Tsutomu ‘Lucky’ Yamaguchi most certainly will. He was the only man to survive both atomic bomb blasts – at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, he remains the only person, who ever lived on this Earth, to survive two atomic bomb blasts. This is the type of luck I describe as unexplainable.

Yamaguchi lived in Nagasaki but was on assignment in Hiroshima as an engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. When the city was bombed at 8:15 am, on August 6th, 1945, Yamaguchi was less than two miles away from the city centre, where the Enola Gay dropped the first A-bomb. He was close enough to be knocked off his feet and receive burns, temporary blindness and some damage to his hearing. At Hiroshima station, two associates waited to make the trip back to Nagasaki with Yamaguchi. They both survived the explosion as well.

Yamaguchi’s injuries were not so severe as to prevent him from returning to Nagasaki or reporting to his office three days later on the August 9th. His supervisor insisted Yamaguchi was crazy when he described the atomic bomb blast. He didn’t believe such a weapon could exist, but neither had Yamaguchi until one exploded right in front of him.

It was during this discussion that the Nagasaki bomb detonated. The Nagasaki Prefecture Report described Nagasaki as being “like a graveyard with not a tombstone standing”

On March 24th, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Yamaguchi’s presence in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of both explosions.

There are those who may argue that Lucky Yamaguchi sent negative thoughts out into the universe and he reaped the consequences of his own negativity. Others may argue that it was his karma or divine providence. I don’t discount any such beliefs, but I will make the point that Tamaguchi survived. He was bombed twice and survived twice. Where is life’s lesson in this tale? Yamaguchi’s bad luck was obviated by his good luck.

Yamaguchi’s wife and three children also survived the Nagasaki bomb. However, the case could be made that radiation may have been a factor in the cancers which killed Yamaguchi and his wife when they were both 93.

Yamaguchi’s tale has been recounted in television programs and in feature articles in magazines and newspapers. At times he was referred to as “the luckiest man alive” and on other occasions, he was called “the unluckiest man alive”.

I take only one thing away from his story: you can’t plan for everything.

Nagasaki Aftermath

2 thoughts on “Is There Such a Thing as Luck?

  1. Wow! This is such an interesting article. I like the analogy between affiliate marketing and someone that should have reacted in a certain way but didn’t. Something to bear in mind as an Affiliate Marketer.

    I have heard about split testing but only in the realms of email marketing.

    Concerning luck, I don’t believe it exists. If anything happens, good or bad my reaction is ‘All things work together for the good’.

    I’m currently reading ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. Lots of examples of ‘survivors’ becoming successful people despite events surrounding them like Beethoven, being blind, Booker T Washington being born into slavery and so on. They didn’t become lucky. Having the right mindset and being able to adjust in situations is key.
    Thanks for an eye-opener of an article.

  2. Thanks for your interest, Jackie.

    There’s is an old saying, and I’m paraphrasing – nothing is good or bad except that thinking makes it so. There may be truth in that. I don’t judge belief systems.

    However, I believe that Napoleon Hill has built a Dan Brown-like cult following based on the notion that Andrew Carnegie tasked him with a twenty-year mission to investigate and deliver the keys of success to all men.

    However, I can’t take issue with his philosophies – they are largely based on the writings and sayings of Andrew Carnegie whom I believe to be the true hero. But, this is pretty much like arguing about who wrote Shakespeares’s plays. In my view, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    All the best,

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