Sometimes a little bit of luck goes a long way

My children hate Malcolm Gladwell and they don’t even know him. In his book Outliers, Gladwell proposed that you had to spend 10,000 hours practising something to become an expert.  I won’t let them read The Click Moment, a book from Frans Johansson that proposes that luck has just as big a role to play in success – unless you want to be a chess grandmaster, a tennis star or a classical musician.

But The Click Moment will make me more sympathetic when they complain about the long work. Maybe they will get lucky early, I think. But I doubt it.

Take the story of Ray Preston who found the perfect spot for his independent bookstore in New York. A month after he opened, a major civic project started that diverted foot traffic away from his shop.  Ray tried lots of different things to save his shop. He sold his apartment and moved into the stock room to invest in it. But he reached the point when he thought he would go bust in three weeks’ time.  I might as well have some fun, he told himself, so he asked a friend to draw a life-size portrait of the Dude from the Big Lebowski and he started to sell Dude t-shirts. To his surprise he sold out, so he ordered some more.

One weekend morning, dishevelled and barely dressed he got up and put the portrait outside. Two magazine reporters by chance happened to walk past and what they saw was someone who looked like the Dude putting out a billboard of the Dude.  What’s going on, they asked. Ashamed of his real story, Ray just lied. “This is a Big Lebowski store,” he told them and suddenly he had a Lebowski shop. Today people travel from all over the world to visit his shop and buy merchandise.

But I am not recommending that you move into your stock room and open up shop in your dressing gown, hoping that a TV crew will find you remarkable. The great thing about Johansson’s book is that he exposes just how random the secrets of success were for companies like Starbucks, Microsoft and Google. How the owner of Facebook didn’t really want to create a social media site. And so on.  The stories are great to read. What is of utility is some of the rules that Johansson proposes to help you take advantage of the click moment.

In particular, he argues that you should:

  • make lots of small purposeful bets (constantly refreshing your merchandise)
  • make affordable bets (work out how much you might lose rather than how much you will grow profits, on the basis that exposure to lots of ideas increases your chance of success)
  • stick to what you are passionate about
  • get out and meet new people, people who are not like you and who have different ideas.

If you are leading your business, this book shows that putting in the long hours of practice is unlikely to make you successful. The rules of the game are mostly stacked against you.

If you are the type of retailer who loves novelty, who loves trying new things, who is passionate about making a difference locally, then this book may help you rethink what you do and give you a boost.


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