We could all use a little more luck in our lives. On the surface, it seems like wishful thinking to imagine there’s anything we could do to enhance that. But most of us—the overscheduled masses—have engineered it out of our lives, and there are steps we can take to fix that. “Just look at your calendar,” John Hagel of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge told me during an interview. “How tightly scheduled are you? Have you got a breakfast meeting, meetings all day, then late night meetings? There’s not much chance for serendipity there unless a fire alarm goes off and you have to head into the street. Create spaces where you’re wandering around and exposing yourself to new people.”
What does it look like to make time for luck in your life? As I recount in my new book Stand Out, venture capitalist Anthony Tjan, who conducted an extensive survey of entrepreneurs, told me that “luck is often mislabeled in business.” It’s not so much that people are lucky, but that they’re interested in other people and aren’t rushing along to the next, better thing. As Tjan notes, “Lucky people have an openness, an authenticity, and a generosity toward embracing people—without overthinking ‘what’s the value exchange?’ It’s just, that’s an interesting person. It might be someone working in a restaurant, someone in an unrelated industry, or a taxi driver, and ten years later when that person becomes somehow critical, people say, that’s so lucky—they happened to meet someone in college, or they were on the same boat with them.”
When we’re too deliberate and focused on building our network, we often get tunnel vision. “There are plenty of times when you’re going to conferences or cocktail parties, and you’re thinking about where there’s a fit [in making a connection],” says Tjan. “You’re trying to quickly assess and screen value, and we all fall prey to that.” Unfortunately, that means you may overlook anyone who deviates from the stereotype of what a great leader or rising professional “should” look like. You may miss the shy entrepreneur hiding in the corner, or the guy wearing nerdy clothes who turns out to be an influential blogger.
People who self-identify as “lucky”—and are therefore perhaps a little more laid-back and open to chance—“are the ones who discover the wallflowers,” says Tjan, “and they benefit disproportionately later in life from some of those relationships.” While it’s critical to work hard and make your own opportunities, it pays to recognize that we don’t have to control everything in life. Leave room in your schedule for the unexpected—the colleague popping by your office with an interesting idea, or the chance to take a surprise call from an old friend you haven’t spoken with in ages. If you’re too Type A to even know where to begin, you can follow the lead of one self-described “lucky” person interviewed by psychologist Richard Wiseman, who revealed that in order to force himself to diversify the types of people he talked to, he would attend an event and approach only people wearing a particular color. If your network is too heavy with fellow marketers, or thirty-something tech guys, or mom entrepreneurs, make it a point to attend events that attract a wide cross-section—and avoid clustering in homogeneous groups by using the “colored shirt” strategy.
It’s possible to bring more serendipity into your life, if you avoid overscheduling and leave room during the day for the unexpected. By seeking out people you wouldn’t normally come across and inviting unusual connections, you can develop relationships that pay dividends you can’t even imagine.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. You can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook and follow her on Twitter.