Can we really plan to be lucky?
He said, “Luck is the residue of design.” Who was it, and what did he mean? And more importantly, how can we put his idea to work so that the lucky breaks come when we roll the dice? All that and more in this edition of Lines for Leaders.
He played major league baseball for two different teams, and he was a team manager for four other ones. He introduced the batting helmet to Major League Baseball. He’s a chief architect behind the baseball’s modern farm team system. He’s even in the baseball hall of fame.
But I hadn’t heard of Branch Rickey until we watched the movie “42” a few years ago. It’s the captivating story of Jackie Robinson becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. Rickey was the man who signed him to the Brooklyn Dodgers, finally breaking the color barrier.
Rickey was once quoted as having said that “Luck is the residue of design.”
Maybe you’ve heard that, but what did he mean?
First, as he says himself, “luck is a fact, but it should not be a factor.” In any human enterprise there is always going to be an element of chance. We can’t control all the variables, so the key is to structure things so that we aren’t dependent on those things we can’t control.
Second, he’s saying that luck is what’s left over. It’s the residue of something that precedes it. It’s the stuff that we do before we look for luck that is the important part of the equation. He calls this: Design.
Design is the work we do ahead of time. The more effort we put into planning and preparing for what’s coming, the better the chances are that when we are in the middle of execution, the dice will turn up in our favor.
Three Ways to Add Some Luck
What are some ways we can design things so that our residual luck is good luck? Three ideas for you:
1. Don’t plan in a vacuum. If there is only one brain involved in solving a problem or preparing for a key event, we can expect those dice to turn up wrong as often as not. We can’t think of everything by ourselves. The thing to do is to share our thoughts with others, get input from our team, and coordinate our actions with anyone who might be impacted. When we get their thoughts early in the process we’ll have time to accommodate them and reduce the odds that things will go sideways.
2. Red-Team your ideas. As our planning matures, it helps to deliberately think about what could go wrong. We can even appoint someone to play the Red Team Leader. Make it their job to think of ways our plans could go off the rails. And as they surface their schemes, we can develop ways to anticipate that “bad luck” and be ready to respond.
3. Rehearse. There’s no better way to discover what can go wrong than when we try to actually do the thing we plan to do. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to try things out on a smaller scale. When we rehearse our plans we lower the risk if something goes wrong, and we give ourselves time to make adjustments before the big show.
In fact, if rehearsals go smoothly, we may want to invite our Red Team Leader to throw us a few curve balls just to make sure we’re ready.
Planning to be Lucky – The Takeaway
When we coordinate our planning by involving others, red-team what might go wrong, and when we rehearse what we plan to do, we are designing things so that good luck is the residual.
There will always be some roll of the dice in anything we do. But let’s not just bet on them coming up the way we hope.
Let’s design things so that however they turn up, we’ll be ready to make the most of them. The more effort we put into the design, the better we’ll be able to do that.
How does that song “Born Under a Bad Sign” go?
“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
Maybe if the singer had listened to Branch Rickey and done a little more designing and a little less complaining, he’d discover the sign had nothing to do with it.