Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking
that you can boost your chances of success in an uncertain future by systematically increasing your luck.
The playing field
McCann and Weinberg note that the economy, like many global systems, is a chaotic system. With chaotic systems, you can guess which way they’re trending, but it’s impossible to precisely predict their overall long-term state. For example, you can’t know how a certain company or person in the economy will fare over time.
A key feature of chaotic systems like the economy is that they are sensitive to changes in initial conditions.
As McCann and Weinberg point out, this phenomenon is explained by a metaphor called the butterfly effect
: “the path of a tornado could be affected by a butterfly flapping its wings weeks before, sending air particles on a slightly different path than they would have otherwise traveled, which then gets amplified over time and ultimately results in a different path for the tornado.”
You can probably point to times in your life when a small change led to a big effect by asking “What if?”
What if you hadn’t gone to the event that led to meeting your significant other?
What if you had formed a relationship with a different mentor or teacher?
Once you understand the butterfly effect, you can use it to your advantage.
Increasing your odds of success
Unlike an air particle, you have some control over your life. You have the potential to increase the probability of a successful outcome for yourself.
To do this, McCann and Weinberg recommend that you increase your “luck surface area.”
You may remember from geometry that the surface area of an object is how much area the surface of that object covers. Just as it’s easier to catch a fish if you cast a wide net, your personal luck surface area will increase as you interact with more people in more diverse situations.
You can increase your luck surface area by relaxing your rules for how you engage with the world. Keeping the butterfly effect in mind, you are increasing your chances of influencing a tornado – in this case, maybe it’s forming a new partnership that turns into a positive outcome.
But you have to be judicious about which events you attend. If you say yes to everything, then you won’t have enough time for focused work.
On the other hand, saying no to everything will reduce your luck surface area too much.
A happy medium would be to occasionally attend events that expose you to people who can help you advance your goals: “Say no often, so you can say yes when you might make some new meaningful connections.”