Amgen stresses the importance of luck in project management

Believe it or not, luck is a skill.

Most entrepreneurs credit some (if not all) of their success to luck. But this is not the result of random chance. Successful people are able to position themselves to make more luck.

Serendipity drives so much of our lives, and yet we give it so little attention. With proper care and cultivation, we can maximize our chances to get lucky. It's easier than you think to turn your life into a machine that churns out opportunities. We just need to get a bit more comfortable with the unknown. Let me explain: 

One of my favorite recent studies into serendipity was conducted by the pharmaceutical company Amgen. They came across what they called “Landing Pad Leaders,” defined as the few employees within the organization that were the most consistent source of serendipitous invention. They were employees that were exposed to more randomness, because they connected relatively unique teams and projects with each other. They pinged up against the boundaries of Amgen as an organization. 

There are 12 Landing Pad Leaders at Amgen. Out of 24,000 employees! 

How did they get to be Landing Pad Leaders, and what did they do to retain the position? To start with, Amgen made sure to focus on making the leaders an integral part of many groups—they encouraged lateral moves, and positioned them to connect different functions and departments. This person was responsible for making sure that the free flow of ideas and random collisions happened, and not stifled. 

The study also describes how what Amgen calls “the narrative fallacy” happens. When you dig deeply into the arcs of the lives of Landing Pad Leaders, you see that they did not actually seek out serendipity. They were just looking for a career to fit them. Serendipity, and the random accidents that led them to create the greatest patents in their company’s history, just happened. Sometime later, they understood that their lives had been defined by randomness. 

One upside of failing fast is that you get to learn about serendipity. A team you bring together out of serendipity doesn’t feel comfortable, but it pulls in random people and encourages collaboration. These accidents usually don’t lead to anything, but occasionally they make something significant. 

Let’s apply these practices to you. Imagine the possibility of getting yourself lucky. By being more open to what the world has to offer, whenever you can, you’ll be helping your world to work. What skills do you rely on for your success? Do you possess any traits that help others succeed? One of the most underutilized talents is the ability to connect people and opportunities together, accidentally.

Another great thing that can happen from being open to serendipity, is what people call “happy coincidences.” A small thing, that if by itself wouldn’t matter much, happens, creates a spark, and that spark escalates into something bigger. A random email you cut and paste thinks it’s an abuse and complains to the list owner, who kicks you off—but then you reconnect with the person you sent the email to, who then introduces you to someone, and then you have a great income source. If you had not been open to what randomness can bring, you would’ve been kicked off the list and not made it back to your new partner. Objection, you don’t believe in coincidences? Neither do I!  This overlooked skill is of the highest value in entrepreneurship, and often sets successful entrepreneurs apart from the rest of the others. Very successful people tend to be open to chance. They are hopelessly weak at predicting the future, so they pursue opportunities just for the experience they represent. They lack the rationality that would have stopped them if they didn’t calculate for these possible future events. They are stubborn in the pursuit of what they are passionate about, and not even rationality holds them back from shooting for their dream. All boundaries seem to fade away when they are whipped into a serendipity-driven pursuit. 

Never stop aiming high. Entrepreneurs watch out for random collisions, and grab hold of something immediately when they see an outlier. The ability to ride randomness is what separate great opportunities from normal ones. Serendipity is a rewarding skill that open-minded people tend to develop. Cultivating this skill makes entrepreneurs. Without it, they would be less likely to take risks, and less likely to even be exposed to the higher probability of failure.