Dr Jeff Cornwall

Luck and Serendipity

While entrepreneurial success is tied to careful feasibility assessment, business modeling and planning, never underestimate the role that luck plays in an entrepreneurial journey.

I am not suggesting that aspiring entrepreneurs just sit and wait for an opportunity to come to them like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. As the Roman philosopher Seneca pointed out long ago, luck is the crossroad of preparation and opportunity.

Preparation comes from the development of what I call the process skills.

Entrepreneurs have a better chance of success if they learn fundamental business skills, such as accounting, marketing and managing people.

They also benefit from learning specific process skills tied to starting and growing a business, such as how to assess opportunities and translate them into business models.

Opportunities come from the development of content skills that come from our experiences in life. The best ideas for possible businesses most often come from jobs we have held, from our hobbies and interests and from our social network.

If we pay close attention, it is out of these experiences that we’ll notice customers who aren’t getting what they want or who are missing the service they expect. This is what creates the gaps and pain in the market that entrepreneurs can capitalize on with a new business.

There is one important caution regarding the opportunities that come from our experiences, though. Don’t become a slave to the status quo. Be ready to be surprised.

Luck is not the only element that leads to entrepreneurship. We also need to be ready for serendipity, which is when we find opportunity not by plan, but by accident.

The examples of the role of serendipity in entrepreneurial success are many.

For instance, the original plan for PayPal was to build a payment platform for the old hand-held Palm Pilot devices.

And 3M sticky notes came from an adhesive that did not work as well as it should have.

The key was that in both of these examples, while the original plan did not work, an entrepreneur was willing to pursue a surprising new direction that did work very well.

Entrepreneurial success can be the result of a path we did not expect.

While our experiences are important, we have to be careful not to get stuck in the old, traditional ways of thinking. And we must never become a slave to our original ideas.

So, the formula for success is quite often a combination of hard work and preparation, of the experiences we have in life and more than a few surprises.

Never underestimate the role of luck and serendipity in entrepreneurship.