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5 Habits Of Lucky Companies


Luck is fortune, fate and destiny. It’s good or bad things happening because of chance, not actions. The concept of luck divides opinions in business. Whilst some believe it to be the difference between success and failure, others are convinced only hard work and persistence counts. For many, it’s somewhere in the middle.

The proven benefits of luck are there. Psychologists like Professor Richard Wiseman have proven being more mindful of your behaviour can improve your luck, and scientists at Indiana University have found that practising being grateful for your luck makes you happier and healthier.

Andy Nairn knows that luck plays a bigger role than most realise. As one of the founders of ad agency Lucky Generals, with clients including Amazon, Virgin Atlantic, Yorkshire Tea and the Co-op, he crafts campaigns that incorporate chance. Campaign magazine has named Nairn the top brand strategist in the United Kingdom for the last three years running and his book, Go Luck Yourself, is all about the role of luck in building a brand.

According to his research and experience in building and promoting lucky companies, here are the five habits they practice.

Maximising what they have

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In building a better business you can aim to have more, or you could do more with what you already have. Nairn pointed out Spotify’s knack of using user data to surprise and delight its customers, and McDonalds’ unwavering and iconic brand identity across decades. Although these are advantages that each brand crafted, now they can be sources of new luck. “Too often,” he said, “companies don’t appreciate the amazing assets right under their nose: their people, brand, data, and the media channels they, by intention or luck, already own.” 

Nairn knows that “lucky companies go to great lengths to protect these treasures” and use them to elevate the customer experience to new heights. Thinking about your business, what sources of huge value could you be overlooking in favour of new, shiny things that are just out of reach? New sources of luck might be right under your nose.

Mixing things up

Serendipity and happy accidents are forms of luck. But these happy accidents can be intentionally planned. How so? “Apple and Pixar designed their buildings to maximise interaction between different departments,” recalled Nairn. “Sprinkles Bakery borrowed inspiration from banks to create its novel cupcake ATMs.” Make happy accidents more likely to happen by “building diverse cultures, encouraging different disciplines to work together and even borrowing ideas from very different sectors.”

Luck is found in brainwaves, strokes of genius and off-the-wall ideas that no one thought of before. They aren’t found buried in textbooks or whilst wearing metaphorical blinkers. They are found from stargazing, curiosity and learning from new places. From which industries could your company borrow inspiration?

Turning misfortune into good fortune

Most brands suffer a form of misfortune at some stage. The key to long-lasting success is in bouncing back stronger when it happens. An unlucky streak need not mark the end of the world. Nairn described recent campaigns of KFC, “how they emerged stronger from their supply crisis,” and older ones of Nutella, “which was developed because of a cocoa shortage,” as well as the public failure of Kellogg’s in their “attempt to make granola.”

The luckiest companies get good at dealing with adversity, more necessary than ever given the last two years. They “have a habit of turning misfortune into good fortune” by choosing to see the opportunity and refusing to let a little bad luck get them down. Which failures can your company learn from? When were you dealt a poor hand and how can you transform it into a fistful of aces?

Creation of space for experimentation

“We all pay lip service to the idea of experimentation in the pursuit of breakthrough ideas, but usually this good intention gets subsumed by everyday work pressures.” Have you ever blocked out your diary for thinking, strategizing or creativity only to have the time stolen by admin and regular work? It happens all the time. Stillness, playfulness, and the space to think, create lucky chances for companies but very few protect their intentions to the detriment of business as usual.

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There are some exceptions. “Lucky companies put their money where their mouths are,” explained Nairn. “They ring-fence time for employees to play around on passion projects.” Nairn’s examples include 3M and Google, who each famously “allocate 15-20% of engineers’ time to experimentation.” This practice pays. Household software including Gmail was created within the experimentation time.

Avoidance of perfectionism

You can spend countless hours honing the last 10% or you can ship and assess demand with something a little less than perfect. Lucky companies do the latter. “It may seem counterintuitive,” explained Nairn, “but lucky companies don’t pour all their energy into making things perfect. Instead, they get them to a 90% level of excellence.” In the long run this is better, “it enables them to launch quickly and learn on the hoof.”

Nairn points to examples including Amazon, who are public about their mission and practices, and Sir Richard Branson has spoken out against perfectionism, often citing the Salvador Dali quote, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” Elon Musk has also warned against perfectionism, seeing it as a blocker to progress for Tesla. Amassing sales and fans is better than being stuck on the starting blocks. Launch, then learn. Luck may follow.

You can be lucky by chance or lucky by design. The luckiest companies strategically place themselves in the path of luck to reap its benefits. In doing so, they make it look easy. In consistently making the most of their existing assets, being inspired by other industries, turning their adversity into strength, building their offering by experimentation and ignoring perfectionism, lucky companies keep their lucky streak. If it’s possible for them, it’s possible for you. Roll the dice, take the chance, play the game of luck in your business.

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