Skill vs. Luck

Today, while listening to the latest episode of “How I Built This” with Rod Canion, who founded Compaq Computer, the question of course came up about how much he owed his success to luck and skill.  Rod said if you had asked him in the 1980s when he was founding the company, he would have said “90% skill, 10% luck.”  Now looking back, it would be the reverse.

This made me think why the question of skill vs. luck even exists when it is clear both must be occur in order to succeed and there is no way to the exact proportion.  It would seem that the correct answer to all success is 100% skill and 100% luck.  One can certainly be skillful, but without the right amount of “right place, right time”, it is impossible to succeed.  And of course, the opposite can be stated.  If you are constantly in the right place at the right time, but lack the attributes needed to take advantage of the situation, then again it’s all for nought.

“The better I am, the luckier I get,” is an old saying that certainly seems true based on empirical evidence.  However, it is nearly impossible to control for luck, but you can certainly work to gain skills or more importantly, know where you lack and focus solely on your strengths.  Like Einstein says (was it Einstein), a fish will always think he is a failure if he is judged by how well he can climb a tree.

Lastly, as Rod Canion pointed out, as his frame of reference changed, the proportion of luck and skill in his life changed.  There is no way to know how important each one is exactly, but it is clear that both are important in life and frame of reference plays a large part.

The question shouldn’t be skill vs. luck, but rather it should be noted that one needs both to succeed, and you can only control one.


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