Ask entrepreneurs how they built their businesses and they’ll likely credit talent and hard work. Luck is at the bottom of the list. In a scholarly survey that had 3,000 Swiss entrepreneurs rank the relative importance of six components of success, 78 percent put luck last.
Not shocking: Successful people believe their achievements are the product of their own industry rather than randomness. A sample of failed entrepreneurs would likely have found more people blaming bad fortune.
But the authors did find that luck—in Switzerland, at least—turns out to be a cultural construct. Respondents from Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland were more likely to say that startups need luck to succeed than people from French regions were, and the French-speaking entrepreneurs placed more faith in fortune than steely Germanic entrepreneurs did.
Age also influenced attitudes toward luck. Younger entrepreneurs put more stock in it than older ones, according to authors Diego Liechti and Claudio Loderer, who teach at the University of Bern, and Urs Peyer, who teaches at Insead, near Paris. That may be because more experienced hands had come to discount the role of luck, or it may be a question of selective memory.
The Swiss study doesn’t argue that luck is an outdated idea, as author David McRaney told my colleague Karen Klein recently. (In that view, what we call good luck is really the ability to seize opportunity when it presents itself; bad luck is being too narrowly focused to take advantage of good chances.) Survey respondents said luck was “very important” to some parts of their business, including crucial areas such as choosing a business idea, winning customers, and establishing business connections.
Rather, respondents tended to view bad luck (and good) as something that can be overcome. The message for entrepreneurs, the authors write, is “get an education, work hard, rely on your experience, and don’t let randomness discourage you, it is not the decisive factor.”