The Role of Luck in Successful Innovation

Photo by kaibara87

Photo by kaibara87

The other day I was listening to a panel of DC entrepreneurs talk about innovation and their experience with it. Someone raised the notion of luck being a key, perhaps even essential, ingredient for success. At first, I had a visceral reaction to this thought, perceiving that luck just makes it harder to glean best practices, which I believe are many and contextually nuanced. I think luck does happen, and occasionally it is to the detriment of innovation, which is a repeatable process rather than an innate trait. As such, luck obscures the repeatable elements of the methodology, which can mislead aspiring innovators. 

Overall, there are a number of ingredients required for successful innovation and, in some tightly competed-for spaces in particular, luck is one (wholly unpredictable) ingredient that can raise you to the top. For example, some entrepreneurs happen onto an unmet need or job-to-be-done without having done proper due diligence via customer research. In this way, luck's blinders can make for inconsiderate (what I would call arrogant) building of a product or service without proper understanding of what necessary job it is going to do for a customer. In my experience, this accounts for many of the early failures of new offerings (i.e. the absence of luck in this respect). 

The best entrepreneurs— the ones to mimic— are the ones who know how to fail, and don't confuse luck (even if they've benefitted from it) with getting it right. In most arenas, hard work, solving for a human need, and learning from your failures quickly– while duly shifting course, will create a ship that weathers storms better than most others.

However, rather than dismissing this notion outright, I thought I might turn the question out to a broader audience. What do you think? What role does luck play in innovation success? How "key" is it?

-Clay Maxwell (@bizinnovationist)