How Luck Changes The World

I got lucky.

If it wasn’t for an introduction my father made to a patient of his, a gentleman who introduced me to the world of finance, god only knows what I would be doing today. If the Knicks weren’t getting blown out in the third quarter of a playoff game, god only knows what I would be doing today. And if Josh Brown didn’t get on the same train as I did that night, god only knows what I would be doing today.

There’s a quote from Charlie Munger, “I think I’ve been in the top 5% of my age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I’ve underestimated it. Never a year passes that I don’t get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther.” My version of this is in understanding the role of chance.

What I just shared was only the tip of the iceberg, but needless to say a lot of chance occurrences had to happen for me to be in the fortunate position that I am today.

I was reminded of this while reading Bob Iger’s excellent autobiography, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Here’s the the story of how he got his foot in the door at ABC. There’s luck and then there’s whatever the heck this is:

I came to ABC thanks to my uncle Bob’s bad eyesight. My mother’s brother, whom I adored, spent a few fays in a Manhattan hospital after eye surgery, and his roommate was a lower-level ABC executive, who for whatever reasons wanted to make my uncle believe his he was a big network mogul. He would fake taking phone calls in his hospital bed, as f there were important network decisions that only he could make, and my uncle fell for it. Before he was discharged, my uncle mentioned to his roommate that his nephew was looking for a job in television production in New York. The guy gave him his number and said, “Tell your nephew to give me a call.”

Later in the book he talks about how he got his first break, which is every bit as unlikely:

If you squinted, this new position was slightly more illustrious than the job I’d just lost. But it was the break that made all the difference, part of which I like to think I owe to Frank Sinatra, and part to a guy who later got fired from the company for embezzlement.

During Iger’s tenure, Disney purchased Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. It’s safe to say the world of Disney and entertainment would not look the same without him, and all because a guy in a hospital bed wanted to impress his roommate.

Nearly everyone who has achieved the level of success as Bob Iger has been blessed with chance encounters. Most people never experience something like this, but we all caught the biggest break of them all just by being on this planet.

I’ll let Bill Bryson have the final word.

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely — make that miraculously — fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stuck fast, untimely wounded or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.