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Can You Learn to be Lucky?
Why Some People Seem to Win More Often Than Others
- Read in 15 minutes
- Audio & text available
- Contains 9 key ideas
Can You Learn to Be Lucky (2018) explores how unseen biases dictate our personal behavior and world events in ways that are often quite predictable. By understanding the mechanisms behind seemingly lucky events, we can learn how to harness luck to our advantage.
Key idea 1 of 9
Appearing last could help your chances of being lucky.
You’ve doubtless heard someone account for a serendipitous event – be it a job opportunity, a promotion or a romantic encounter – by saying, “I was just in the right place at the right time.” Well, it turns out there is a lot of truth to this cliché. At the very least, the “right time” part is crucial.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, luck often depends on coming last.
In any situation where a number of people, objects or performances are judged against each other, being among the last to be judged increases your chances of success.
For example, an analysis of European figure-skating championships between 1994 and 2004 found that the first skater to perform had a 3 percent chance of winning, whereas the final performer had a 14 percent chance. The same pattern has been found in everything from synchronized-swimming championships to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Why is this? Well, the human brain is wired to work this way. It relies on context, on the information and emotions that are currently available to it.
Just consider house hunting. The first properties you view will be judged against your ideals because your mind isn’t yet stocked with real-life examples of real estate to compare them to. But, over time, as you see more properties, your brain will receive information about what is actually out there. You’ll start to think, “Well, this house seems pretty good compared to the first nine I looked at.”
House hunters viewing their first property never say, “This house is perfect! We’ll take it!” They wait until they’ve seen a number of houses before settling on one they like.
In the same way, figure-skating judges are reluctant to award an early competitor a 5.9 or a 6 (the highest marks available) because this will make it impossible to give later competitors a higher mark. By the end, competitors are more likely to pick up those high marks, however, since the judges know there is no one else coming who could trump them.
So going last is lucky. If you can choose a job interview slot, go last. Want to pick up that hot guy at the bar? Make your attempt late in the evening.