When I look at the history of the great rock bands I’m always struck by the random occurrences that happened early in their careers that enabled their later successes.
If Paul McCartney hadn’t met John Lennon at St. Peter’s Church in Liverpool or if the group’s booking agent, Alan Williams, hadn’t sent them to Hamburg (where they had to play six sets a night for months, turning them into a professional band) or if young record buyers hadn’t alerted music store owner Brian Epstein to the existence of the group (which he soon began to manage)—there would be no Beatles phenomenon.
Likewise, if Larry Mullen Jr. hadn’t posted a notice on the bulletin board at Dublin’s Mount Temple School seeking musicians for a new band or if Paul McGuinness hadn’t been introduced to the group (which he was later invited to manage) or if Bono, Edge, and Larry had abandoned the band to pursue a more spiritual path (as they almost did)—there would be no U2 phenomenon. MANY serendipitous incidents have to fall into place for bands like these to make their mark.
And so it goes for any winning business. If Steve Jobs hadn’t met future Apple partner Steve Wozniak at Homestead High School or hadn’t visited Zerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (where he was inspired by their graphical interface display) or wasn’t kicked off another Apple project, freeing him up to lead the MacIntosh development team—there would be no Apple computers, tablets, or smartphones today.
The most overlooked aspect of business achievement may simply be...luck. Every success story I can think of is dominated by happenstance. But that doesn’t make for compelling narratives—and won’t sell business books.
But there’s the other side of the story too. Successful individuals and teams take advantage of luck and to some extent attract the opportunities they manage to exploit. Nobody finds you unless you’re out there doing it. (A 16-year-old Lennon was performing on the back of a pick-up truck when McCartney first laid eyes on him.) As Seneca, one of my favorite business consultants, observed a few years back, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
This relates to the “Butterfly Effect” (or “Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions”) in which small differences in initial circumstances can generate dramatically different chains of events. It's always fun to imagine alternative outcomes if earlier events had been different. (If The Beatles had never acquired a savvy manager with a theatrical background, would they have become more than a local Liverpool band?) Interesting to apply this to your own life too. If you had a different high school trigonometry teacher or piano tutor or basketball coach (NOT the one who lit a fire under you at the time) would your career arc be different today?
I posted a few thoughts on this here at Tom Peters’ website four years ago.