“Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Posted on 15th April, by JimYoung in Blog, Risk Management. No Comments

When I first noticed Richard Wiseman’s rather quirky book “The Luck Factor” I immediately thought of good old Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) – hence this article’s heading. Wiseman maintains that luck can be predicted and controlled and claims that his publication is the consequence of ten years’ scientific research rather than mere anecdotal trivia. I first encountered Wiseman’s views when I saw his infamous “gorilla basketball” video on YouTube. Yet, now that we accept opportunity as a dimension of project risk, his ideas on luck may have some relevance for us project managers.

Certainly when projects go wrong we are inclined to react “Why my project?” and we are usually less inclined to question things when all goes right. However, Wiseman has researched the “go right” option and suggests that the following strategies could turn our projects into luck magnets:

• Capitalise on risk opportunities. Lucky project managers are skilled at recognising and responding to opportunities.

• Apply intuition. Lucky project managers seek facts first, but also listen to their positive gut feelings.

• Expect good luck. Lucky project managers are sure that their projects will succeed. This positive expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it encourages perseverance and creates a motivating environment.

• Turn bad luck into good luck. Lucky project managers don’t dwell on ill fortune, rather they take control and recognise how things could have been worse.

In case we forget such strategies “push your luck” and “expect good luck” rubber wristbands are now available at US$2.25 each and half that price if we purchase 100, which would presumably cater for a very large project team and its anxious stakeholders or provide us with a lifetime’s supply of good luck. To keep us positively focused, we give these wristbands a quick ping whenever bad thoughts arise. Wiseman also suggests we keep a project “luck log” that we update daily with things that go better than expected. He suggests that such a record will help grow our project team’s confidence. This approach reminds me of “The Secret”, a 2006 self-help or perhaps self-deception book written by Rhonda Byrne. Her book attracted plenty of controversy, but was a best seller. Rhonda has recently published “The Magic” some of which commodity might be very useful when project disaster threatens, although I guess it would mean a fire sale for my book “Managing Murphy.”

Frankly, while cultural views might vary, I would give the luck log and wristband a wide berth, unless perhaps our project clients are impressed with such gimmicky. But I do recognise the power of positive thinking, providing this does not distract us from the serious business of anticipating and dealing with the bad luck or threats that lurk in our every project. I believe that project risk managers need a proven methodology and a liberal sprinkling of skepticism, more so than lucky dust, logs, wristbands and wishful thinking. In fact, as a project sponsor or client any mention of such things by your project manager should be seen as a warning – a risk trigger no less.

Finally, while it is fair to say that luck, both good and bad, plays some part in every project, more than a century ago, Louis Pasteur said of his seemingly serendipitous discoveries, “Fortune favours the prepared mind,” which for us means, don’t neglect risk management planning. Similarly, when Seneca, a Roman philosopher, once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” I’m sure he was thinking of project risk management. He may even have foreseen my recent book “Managing Murphy” – currently available from Whitcoulls for some $45. Click here for sample.


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