The skill of being lucky?

Is luck a skill that can be learned? According to British researcher Richard Weisman, it is.

Luck is certainly a topic that fascinates people across the world, and is the basis for the gambling gaming industry which has to rank as one of the biggest economic sectors in America, the mainstay of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, scores of Indian tribes, and a substantial portion of organized crime. Among the world’s cultures, China’s is among the most focused on luck, and Chinese gamblers are renowned for their enthusiasm and devotion to the notion of luck playing a decisive role in one’s fortunes. The casinos of Macao already out earn those of Las Vegas, and Macao is only getting started.

Weisman’s research, reported in the UK Telegraph (which is also publishing his book on the subject), doesn’t examine the gaming tables, but rather life choices. He writes:

A decade ago, I set out to investigate luck. I wanted to examine the impact on people's lives of chance opportunities, lucky breaks and being in the right place at the right time. After many experiments, I believe that I now understand why some people are luckier than others and that it is possible to become luckier.

To launch my study, I placed advertisements in national newspapers and magazines, asking for people who felt consistently lucky or unlucky to contact me. Over the years, 400 extraordinary men and women volunteered for my research from all walks of life: the youngest is an 18-year-old student, the oldest an 84-year-old retired accountant.

So this is a self-selected sample. That may or may not be a problem, as the goal is to identify two groups whose self-perceptions differ. A short newspaper article does not suffice to determine the merits of this approach. But his findings are quite interesting, and make sense to me.

Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people's ability to notice the unexpected. In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the centre of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed these large dots.

The experiment was then repeated with a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward for accurately watching the centre dot, creating more anxiety. They became focused on the centre dot and more than a third of them missed the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked, the less they saw.

And so it is with luck - unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain types of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

My research revealed that lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

All of this is good advice. But it doesn’t address the question of whether luck at chance games exists, as so many people in so many cultures believe it does.  The rationalist in me wants to believe it is all chance. But then there is an old friend of mine who has over the course of her life discovered that she is naturally lucky at casinos. Intuitively, she knows to not pursue this as a life strategy, but rather limits herself to just occasional visits, and always stops when she wins about a thousand dollars. But she tells me that she always wins. Over the decades, this has served as a nice supplement to her income.

Hat tip: Instapundit

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