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🔥Hot Take Alert #8: Luck
I answer a reader question about luck and your career
Hi there, it’s Adam. 🤗 Welcome to my weekly newsletter. I started this newsletter to provide a no-bullshit, guided approach to solving some of the hardest problems for people and companies. That includes Growth, Product, company building and parenting while working. Subscribe and never miss an issue. I’ve also got a podcast on fatherhood and startups - check out Startup Dad here. Questions? Ask them here.
Welcome to another 🔥 Hot Take Alert 🔥 where I opine on something that I feel very strongly about and occasionally try to make it a little bit better. I don’t expect you to agree with all of them but please keep an open mind. Or don’t. It’s your subscription.
Past 🔥 Hot Take Alerts 🔥 have included:
Q: I'm curious how you see luck as a factor in Growth careers. I really enjoy hearing about people's experiences and thinking about the various frameworks. And also I think we discount luck a ton!
Last week I hosted an Ask an Expert session for Reforge’s Growth Leadership program. It was at the end of the week where we talked about career paths. I’ve written more about career optionality here and skill building in your career here. A thoughtful member of the group asked me this question and I thought I’d write up the answer.
This question is a really good one. The Harvard Business Review thought so too.
One of the things that we are guilty of a lot in the world of tech and business is cargo culting. We follow the practices, principles and processes of the most successful companies because we assume that those are responsible for 100% of their success.
In a recent post on LinkedIn, Leah Tharin described this quite well:
“We tend to have a very siloed vision in tech where we only pay attention to big companies and then attribute everything that they do to being successful. And then we try to measure it and apply it to other companies.”
So what about with careers? Is it all hard work, grit, determination and genius that lead to an up-and-to-the-right career path? Is luck a factor?
Yes. Luck is a big factor.
I believe that luck is a factor in the earliest career decisions. But becomes less of a factor over time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that privilege is a factor. It certainly is. But today’s post is about luck. I’ll come back to privilege in a future newsletter.
Luck at Lyft
In the beginning of 2012 I joined a company called Zimride. I was employee 20 and we would pivot to Lyft less than 6 months after I joined. For 2-3 years I had a front row seat to one of the fastest growing marketplaces of the day. A company that, despite some recent hiccups, still has a market cap of $4 billion.
And even though I had the opportunity to work with a group of very smart, driven, and determined people there was still a healthy dose of luck in the career decision to join Zimride.
This was the first true startup that I joined and I hadn’t developed a point of view on how to reverse interview companies yet. As I navigated the interview process and met with nearly everyone at the company (it was small, remember) I didn’t have a collection of deep questions or a detailed criteria for evaluation.
So mostly my evaluation was:
Do these people seem genuine, smart and determined to build something great? (Yes.)
Is this company going to go out of business in the next 12 months? (Probably not.)
I was also a lot younger, without dependents, a mortgage, etc. My risk profile was very different. If you put Zimride in front of me today and asked me if I’d join, my answer would very likely be “no.”
I obviously had no idea that we’d pivot the company to Lyft (a far better product with much better PMF than Zimride). But once we did we were off to the races. Turns out that pointing genuine, smart and determined people at a product with PMF works great. But pivoting to an entirely new business? Somewhat thoughtful and strategic on the part of John and Logan but also pretty lucky.
But Adam, you said that luck is a factor in the earliest career decisions and becomes less of a factor over time. Whatever do you mean?!?
Partially it’s because you get a little wiser over time and start to develop criteria for evaluation. If you reflect on your experience, the type of people you enjoy working with and the tangibles of companies you narrow your aperture by improving your filtering criteria.
I also didn’t realize just how much I learned when I was at Lyft until after I left. Turns out that scaling a company that fast teaches you all kinds of lessons (both good and bad) and when you look back with a critical eye you can sort decisions into a good and bad pile with the benefit of hindsight.
The other reason why luck is less of a factor over time is because it’s now on you to demonstrate repeatable success (that’s career phase 2, remember). So while luck may be the thing that puts you in a position to validate initial impact, and even a broken clock is right twice a day, it’s harder to serendipitously stumble into a second/third/fourth amazing opportunity. Not impossible, but a lot harder.
Luck may be the key that opens the next door, but you’ve got to deliver when you’re there.
How has luck played a role in your career moves? Let me know in the comments!
Note: This was a short post this week. I’m working on some exciting, longer-form writing for the coming weeks. 🔥 Get hyped! 🔥
Read all of my Hot Take Alerts here.