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The Luck Factor Hardcover – April 2, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Filled with real-life stories from hundreds of interviews; inspirational quotes from the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Oprah Winfrey; and graphed research data from his eight-year study of luck, Wiseman's book promises to offer "a scientifically proven way to understand, control, and increase your luck." While many believe luck is a mystical force influenced by superstitious rituals, Wiseman, psychology chair at the University of Herfordshire in England, claims lucky people simply possess four basic psychological traits unlucky people don't: the ability to maximize chance opportunities, to listen to "gut feelings," to expect good fortune and to see the bright side of bad luck. Questionnaires and exercises offer guidance on how to acquire or enhance luckiness while keeping a "luck journal" and incorporating techniques to increase intuition, stop negative self-fulfilling prophecies and learn how to effectively network. The format is marked by redundant chapter summaries, but Wiseman's upbeat, charismatic tone might persuade even skeptical readers of the transformative effect luck can have in their personal and professional lives.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Might persuade even skeptical readers of the transformative effect luck can have in their personal and professional lives." -- Publishers Weekly
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The main difficulty with this claim is that at no point in his book does Wiseman present any sort of objective test for `luck'. Rather, his subjects classify themselves as `lucky' or `unlucky' (and he simply takes their word for it) or else they are classified by him as such based on their own subjective evaluation of the degree to which they share certain characteristics with people who see themselves as either `lucky' or `unlucky'. Since the `four principles' are based on data about people who feel lucky, rather than people who are lucky in some objective sense, the only honest claim that could be made based on Wiseman's research is that some people who follow his `four principles' might begin to think of themselves as luckier.
The problem with using people's subjective evaluation of their own luckiness is revealed in an experiment (presented early in the book) to determine whether `lucky' people have more psychic ability than `unlucky' people. Seven hundred volunteers who phoned in upon viewing a particular television programme (Random population sample? Why bother?) were asked to categorise themselves as lucky, unlucky or neutral based on how well they felt they matched Wiseman's `Lucky Description' or `Unlucky Description'. Here's the Lucky description for reference (complete with grammatical errors):
"Lucky people are people for whom seemingly chance events tend to work out consistently in their favour. For example, they seem to win more than their fair share of raffles and lotteries, or to accidentally meet people who can help them in some way, or their good fortune might play an important role in them achieving their ambitions and goals."
All of the volunteers entered the same draw of the National Lottery, buying an average of three tickets each. None of the subjects won more than £56 pounds (that amount was won by two participants, one `lucky' and one `unlucky'). On average both `lucky' and `unlucky' participants lost about £2.50. Wiseman's conclusion: `The results indicated that luck wasn't due to psychic ability'.
The results indicate something entirely different to me. The description of `lucky' specifically talks about winning lotteries. Yet people who classified themselves as `lucky' according to this description didn't do any better at the lottery than those who classified themselves as `unlucky' (though `lucky' people's expectations of winning were more than twice as high as those of `unlucky' people). This would seem to indicate that the `lucky' people who participated in this experiment were anything but. They may have been more optimistic, unrealistic, or self-deluding, but they weren't luckier.
"When it comes to random events like the lottery, such expectations count for little. Someone with a high expectation of winning will do as well as someone with a low expectation. However, life is not like a lottery. Often our expectations make a difference. They make a difference to whether we try something, how hard we persist in the face of failure, how we interact with others and how others interact with us."
That's all very true, but when Wiseman admits that expectations `count for little' when it comes to `random events' he is more or less admitting that they have nothing to do with luck.
Wiseman goes on to analyse the characteristics of `Lucky' people (i.e. those who think they are lucky, but probably aren't any luckier than the rest of us) and finds that they have several things in common. Unsurprisingly, they expect good fortune and they see the positive side to random events (for example, having just broken her leg in a freak accident, an `unlucky' person would say `It was bad luck' whereas a `lucky' person would tend to say `I'm lucky I wasn't killed').
Much of the evidence given in this book is anecdotal and many of the anecdotes intended to illustrate someone's luck or lack thereof fail miserably. Women who end up in successive abusive relationships are described as `unlucky in love', though choice, not luck, determines who we marry; and a person who gets involved with someone she doesn't fully trust is better characterised as `desperate' than `unlucky'. Similarly, we hear anecdotes about `lucky' people who enter contests and win prizes. We later learn that entering contests is their hobby and it's only because they enter so many that they win. Statistical probability is involved here, not luck.
But Wiseman doesn't hesitate to extract `ways to improve your luck' from these instances. The women who are `unlucky in love' are meant to show how we can improve our luck by trusting our intuition. (Despite the fact that they had blatant, as well as intuitive, indicators that their men were jerks). The contest winners supposedly illustrate that we can improve our luck by being more persistent-- though I fail to see how increasing one's chances of achieving something through deliberate, persistent and calculated effort has anything to do with `luck'.
I'm sure some of the clichéd suggestions in this book (e.g. positive thinking and networking) will help some readers (those who haven't heard it all before) to improve their chances of achieving their goals. I doubt any of them will help readers to improve their luck. My opinion of this book would have been much higher if the author had straightforwardly framed his findings in terms of `How to make the most of your opportunities.' I really would like to read some properly conducted scientific research which addresses the question of whether some people are innately luckier than others and, if so, what characteristics they share. Unfortunately, Dr. Wiseman seems to have different interests.
You’ve heard that said, and perhaps you have wondered whether it is true. Professor Richard Wiseman, a research psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain, set out to test that proposition, and he subsequently wrote this book about his findings, The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles. His studies showed that people can improve their luck, or at least feel that they have, by changing their behavior and attitudes.
Getting luckier by changing your behavior and attitudes will not increase your chances of winning the lottery. Roulette wheels and slot machines won’t notice, either. Rather, your awareness of opportunities, your use of intuition/hunches, your resilience in the face of bad fortune, and your interactions with other people will improve–and their responses will likely be beneficial to you, making you “luckier.”
Dr. Wiseman’s findings uncovered four elements in the difference between those who believed themselves to have been lucky versus those who did not:
1. “Maximize your chance possibilities.” Be alert to opportunities, and act on them. He states this as, “Lucky people create, notice, and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives.” Often extroverts, they network well. With a relaxed attitude toward life, they try new things, get out of ruts, giving themselves more chances to “win.” For example, my youngest brother accepted a temporary research assignment in Great Britain, and there he met a wonderful woman to whom he is very happily married.
Professor Wiseman tested his subjects for alertness to obvious clues in a simple reading experiment. The ones who had considered themselves to be lucky usually found the clues almost immediately. The faction considering themselves to be unlucky generally missed the clues. The lucky were simply more alert than the unlucky.
To gauge their comparative degrees of connection to others, their degree of networking, Professor Wiseman had his study subjects read a list of 15 common last names and then check how many of these 15 surnames were of people they knew personally. On average, the “lucky” fraction knew many more than the “unlucky” fraction, indicating that the lucky ones were more effective at building networks. Networks are likely to present opportunities.
2. “Listen to your lucky hunches.“ Follow your intuition, not just your reasoning, in personal, financial, and business situations. You can increase this faculty by meditation and by setting aside problems temporarily while your subconscious mind works on them. Falling in love certainly has its intuitive aspects. Sometimes, however, we get a feeling that something is awry, even though we do not know why. Heed both attraction and repulsion. “The heart has its reasons that reason does not understand.”
3. “Expect good fortune.” Create self-fulfilling prophecies by having positive expectations. Expect interactions with others to be mutually beneficial. You will be more attractive as a partner, more likely to establish a win/win outcome. Let your reach exceed your grasp: have high goals. You cannot win if you do not try. “You’ve got to be in it to win it.”
4. “Turn bad luck into good.“ See the positive side of failure: turn that lemon into lemonade; recognize that it could be worse; learn; adapt; forge on; don‘t dwell on temporary defeat.
The principles make sense. The personal stories are interesting. Professor Wiseman lives up to his name.
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