ducksAs a small business owner, I was intrigued by Michael Shermer’s article in Scientific American earlier this month: Does Success Come Mostly from Talent, Hard Work – or Luck?

Ever since Obama declared “You didn’t build that,” I hear arguments on the topic everywhere I go. As the former chairman of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, I can assure you that even business owners in this liberal bastion believe that they are pretty instrumental to their own success. Who will take what side and the premises of their arguments have become so predictable that the conversation is starting to get boring.

Still, I find myself wondering 2 things:

  1. How much of an entrepreneur’s success is attributable to the entrepreneur (Talent & Hard Work) vs. the conditions (Luck) within which the entrepreneur was entrepreneurial?
  2. If luck is the driving force of success, would the success have happened without the driving force of the entrepreneur? In other words, if luck paves the way for success, how can anything happen without the entrepreneur’s brain and elbow grease?

For example, even if 90% of the reason Steve Jobs was able to create the iPhone can be attributed to luck, would we have a device that has changed and improved our lives in so many different ways without Steve Jobs’ 10%: his design talent and iterative hard work?

Forget Steve Jobs. What about a new painting contractor that comes into your community, improves service levels and client communication, and reduces prices? That contractor didn’t invent paint. S/he didn’t even provide a better paint job – although it was a little cheaper. S/he just made the customer experience better. Because of that effort, customers jumped on the bandwagon.

Doesn’t that contractor deserve to be successful? The opportunity was there. Anyone could have done it, but this contractor actually did it!

Luck alone is never enough, in my not always humblest of opinions.