How to Invite Luck

Richard Hamming was a renowned American scientist. He gave a talk at Bell Communications Research in March 1986, in which he talked about the relationship between achieving great results and the role of luck:

“You can’t always know exactly where to be, but you can keep active in places where something might happen. And even if you believe that great science is a matter of luck, you can stand on a mountain top where lightning strikes; you don’t have to hide in the valley where you’re safe.”

I thought of this during a cricket match. Cricket is a sport with some similarities to baseball (here is how a six is hit in cricket). We used to play cricket on Saturday mornings in a nearby ground. It was the last ball of the match, I was the only surviving batsman and we needed six runs to win. I swung my bat on that last delivery and it was going high – but not over – to land straight into the hands of a boundary fielder. However, he dropped the ball and it fell over the boundary. The match was won.

Later, I thought of Hamming’s speech about this match. Clearly, luck played its part in our win, but If I had not preserved my wicket, it would not have happened. If I had not hit the ball with the bat, it would not have gone close to the boundary. I was in a position where the lightning could have struck.

To let the luck play its part, continuing to do the right thing is the key.

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