Does luck happen or do we make it?

His video at TED has been watched over 6 million times. His gentle, yet highly incisive analysis of how education systems need to evolve and handle the unique challenges that children face today has won converts from all across the world. His brand of wry humour portrays the frustrations that parents and students deal with on a daily basis. Dr. Ken Robinson is renowned for the work he has done in reforming education. And in his book ‘The Element‘ he provides numerous insights on how people can find out what they are best suited for. But what got me thinking were his views on the ‘luck factor’. There is an ongoing debate about successful people getting the right breaks at the right time – being lucky, versus talented individuals losing out because lady luck did not smile on them.

He describes luck more as an attitude rather than an event or circumstances. He recounts the example of John Wilson who was extremely unlucky to have a container explode in his face in the chemistry lab at school, blinding him. But Wilson saw his loss as a ‘confounded nuisance, not a crippling affliction’. He quickly learned Braille and became an accomplished rower, swimmer, actor, musician, and orator. He relied on an acute sense of hearing and what he called his ‘obstacle sense’ to keep him out of harm’s way. On a tour of Africa, he found rampant blindness in Ghana from insect bites that affected as much as 10% of the population. He accepted his own blindness as fate but he could not remain a mute witness to something that was eminently curable. He set up Sight Savers International and developed a preventive treatment that has all but eradicated the problem in the country. The organisation continues to do pioneering work in disadvantaged countries helping tens of millions of people in Africa and Asia. So, who’s the lucky person here? And where’s the luck?

Dr. Robinson’s own story is just as inspiring. A promising soccer player in childhood, he was laid low by polio, paralysed from the head down for several months before he recovered the use of his arms and his body gradually though his right leg remains completely paralysed. But he went to a special school where he came across one of the prominent educators of the time, Charles Stafford, who recognised his potential and mentored him. In the book, Dr. Robinson makes a very poignant statement – …” I do know that catching polio opened many more doors for me than the one it so firmly closed at the time” He goes on to say that ‘lucky’ people tend to maximise chance opportunities, listen to their intuition, expect to be lucky – so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but most important of all, they have an attitude that allows them to turn bad luck to good.