You will never control everything that happens, but you can always control how you respond.
One day in 1984, Richard Branson sat in a Puerto Rico airport, eager to board his American Airlines flight to the British Virgin Islands.
Then American canceled the flight.
Frustrated, the 28-year-old Branson went to the back of the airport and used a credit card to hire a plane. He borrowed a blackboard, wrote, “Virgin Airlines: One way to the Virgin Islands, $39,” walked around the airport…and managed to fill the plane.
When the flight landed in the Virgin Islands, a passenger said, “Sharpen up the service a bit and you can be in the airline business.” The next day Branson called Boeing to ask if they had any used 747s for sale. Starting an airline hadn’t been on Branson’s radar until he was “lucky” that his flight got canceled.
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Hold that thought.
Research shows that traits like passion, mental toughness, constant learning, and a willingness to take risks do lead to greater success. Hard work tends to be rewarded. Perseverance is often the difference between success and failure; give up, and failure is guaranteed. Intelligent risks do, at times, pay off. And if they don’t, what you learn from new experiences makes success more likely the next time.
When you outwork, outthink, out-skill, and outlast other people, you’re much more likely to be successful.
The Serendipity Mindset.
Research shows that luck also plays a part. Success is based on factors you can’t control: Being at the right place at the right time. Meeting the right person at the right time. Experiencing something you weren’t necessarily looking for.
And since our lives are often influenced by the unexpected and unplanned (hi Covid-19!), seize the moment the opportunity can provide. That’s what Christian Busch calls, in his book The Serendipity Mindset, The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck, embracing the “serendipity mindset.”
As Busch writes, “Unforeseen events, chance meetings and bizarre coincidences aren’t just minor distractions or specks of grit in our well-oiled lives. The unexpected is often the critical factor–it’s often the force that makes the greatest difference in our lives.”
For Branson, that meant hiring a plane, and financing the cost by selling tickets to other passengers–instead of waiting for a flight the next day. And then realizing that he could create a better airline than the incumbent brands.
For Steve Jobs, that meant recognizing that his relationship with Steve Wozniak could lead to more than a shared appreciation of electronics and playing pranks. For Stephen Hawking, that meant seizing the “opportunity” his disability provided to avoid teaching, lecturing, and attending committee meetings, and instead devote himself fully to research.
For Mark Cuban, that meant starting an internet business at the perfect time. And being smart enough to sell. According to Cuban, “Life is half random.”
Which is why, according to Busch, “Cultivating serendipity is first and foremost about looking at the world with open eyes and seeing opportunities others don’t. It’s not just about being in the right place at the right time and having something happen to us (blind luck), but rather a process in which we can be actively involved.”
How can you develop a serendipity mindset?
Meet more people. Try more things. When things don’t go according to plan, don’t take a step back. Step forward. Embrace what feels like chaos and see where it leads.
Have a goal, have a plan. And then be willing to maneuver. What seems like the wrong place might actually be the right place. What seems like a chance meeting might be the start of an important partnership or collaboration.
What seems like bad luck might cause you to stumble on an idea, a market, a new business….
As long as you’re open to the possibility.
This article was written for Inc.com by Jeff Haden.