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Feeling Lucky?


Bronze Contributor
Aug 9, 2007
this is a great article that I read before... or perhaps another authors version was posted here before... if so, apologies in advance.... but it is a great read worth reading again... or at least for me it was. My perception on life is always changing thanks to articles like this one.

The American Dream
Seeing The Gorilla
Richard Wiseman 10.09.07, 6:00 PM ET

Richard Wiseman

Here's the deal. You send me $5 and your bank account details, and I will make you a millionaire within two weeks. Tempted? I hope not. Had you sent the money, I would have kept it and posted your name on a Web site dedicated to gullible fools.

Of course, not all opportunities are scams. In fact, some are genuine opportunities of a lifetime, resulting in untold fame and fortune. A few years ago, I decided to discover why some people regularly encounter such lucky opportunities, while others repeatedly sent $5 to untrustworthy sharks. The work took 10 years to complete and involved studying the lives of over a thousand exceptionally lucky and unlucky people.

The differences between the groups were remarkable. The lucky people lived amazingly charmed lives, full of good fortune. In contrast, opportunity rarely came knocking at the doors of unlucky people, and when it did, they took so long to answer that it lost interest and wandered away. After years of interviewing, questionnaires and experimentation, it became obvious that people were, without realizing it, creating their own good and bad luck with the way they were thinking and behaving.

For the past few years, I have spoken to a large number of corporate audiences about the work, focusing on why some people spot opportunities while others do not. On almost every occasion, I have shown an amazing 30-second film, made by the psychologist Daniel Simons and his colleagues. The film contains six basketball players. Three of them are wearing white T-shirts, while the other three are wearing black T-shirts. The people in white T-shirts have a basketball and, during the film, pass it to one another. Halfway through the film, a man dressed as a gorilla slowly walks on, saunters through the players, beats his chest at the camera and then walks off.

The audience members are asked to watch the film and count the number of times the people in white T-shirts pass the basketball to one another. At the end of the demonstration, I ask one simple question: "Did you spot the gorilla?" Most people look at me blankly--because they have completely missed him.

When I show the film again, the reactions are fascinating. Most people are stunned into silence. Some laugh nervously. A few simply refuse to believe their eyes, and one or two look at their watches with a bored expression on their faces.

People miss the gorilla for the same reason they miss many opportunities in their lives. Before showing people the film, I explain that they are about to take part in an observation test, and have to count the number of times the basketball is passed from one person to another. At no point do I mention that the film might contain anything unusual, so nobody expects to see a gorilla. Or, to put it in more scientific terms, people's brains are simply not primed to see a man wearing a big, silly animal outfit.

The human brain is amazingly good at detecting what it wants to find. When you are hungry, your brain focuses on finding food. When you are thirsty, it looks for liquid. The problem is, your brain can become so focused on seeing what it expects to see, it misses things that are obvious but unexpected. Lucky people tend to have a somewhat relaxed view of life. They are less concerned with mundane details and more prone to look at the bigger picture. Ironically, by trying less, they see more.

Exactly the same principle applies to the opportunities that bombard us in everyday life. In another experiment, I gave some volunteers a newspaper and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. What I didn't tell them was that halfway through the newspaper I had placed an unexpected opportunity. This "opportunity" took up half a page and announced, in huge type, "Win £100 by telling the experimenter you have seen this." The unlucky people tended to be so focused on counting the photographs they failed to notice the opportunity. In contrast, the lucky people were more relaxed, saw the bigger picture and so spotted a chance to win £100.

Of course, being lucky isn't just about adopting a relaxed attitude toward life. Lucky people possess a whole host of opportunity-attracting traits. For example, many of them go to considerable lengths to introduce variety and change into their lives.

The theory behind this "do something different" behavior is simple. Imagine living in the center of a large apple orchard and having to collect a large basket of apples each day. At first, you will be able to find apples wherever you go. But as time goes on, it will become more difficult to find apples in the places you have visited before. But if you venture into other parts of the orchard, your chances of finding apples increase tremendously.

And it is exactly the same with being lucky. You will quickly exhaust your potential opportunities if you keep talking to the same people, taking the same route to and from work and going to the same places on holiday. But introducing new or random experiences is like visiting a new part of the orchard--suddenly you are surrounded by hundreds of apples.

Lucky people had developed various interesting ways of introducing such variety. One noticed that whenever he went to a party, he tended to talk to the same type of people. To help disrupt this routine, he randomly chose a color before arriving at the party, and then only spoke to people wearing that color of clothing at the party. I have had firsthand experience of the power of this principle. Just last week I chose the color black, spent an evening busily chatting away to a large number of people I wouldn't normally speak to, and so ended up really enjoying the funeral.

My work also uncovered a third important principle. Lucky people experience a large number of seemingly chance encounters. They bump into someone at a party, discover that they know people in common, and from these connections end up getting married or doing business together. Or when they need something, they always seem to know someone who knows someone who can solve their problem.

I wondered if these "small world" experiences were due to knowing a large number of people, and being tied into more elaborate social networks than most. To discover if this was the case and quantify the nature of these networks, I employed a method described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. To explore the notion of social connectivity, Gladwell carried out an informal study in which he presented people with a list of surnames and asked them to indicate if they knew people with that surname. Similarly, I asked hundreds of lucky and unlucky people to look at a list of 15 common surnames, and indicate if they were on first-name terms with at least one person with each surname.

The results were dramatic and demonstrated the huge relationship between luck and social connectivity. Almost 50% of lucky people ticked eight or more of the names, compared with just 25% of unlucky people. Further work has shown lucky people tend to be extroverts who both meet a large number of people and keep in contact with them. The building and maintaining of such social networks significantly increases the likelihood of having a "lucky" chance encounter.

So there you have it. Opportunities do not haphazardly fall into the laps of lucky people. Instead, those people are unconsciously doing all sorts of things to increase their chances of attracting good fortune. They are looking at the big picture, opening their minds to the unexpected, breaking routines and connecting with others. It is hard work and the hours are long, but the rewards make it all worthwhile. And what if all that hard work doesn't appeal? Is there a shortcut? Of course there is--just send me $5 and your bank details.

Richard Wiseman is a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) and best-selling author of The Luck Factor and Did You Spot the Gorilla? His most recent book, Quirkology, explores the more curious aspects of our everyday lives.

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New Contributor
Oct 9, 2007
Great Read! Thanks! Rep Speed++


Read Millionaire Fastlane
Aug 16, 2007
North Carolina

MJ DeMarco

Staff member
Read Millionaire Fastlane
Summit Attendee
Speedway Pass
Jul 23, 2007
Fountain Hills, AZ
Great post ... bump and speed+


Bronze Contributor
Jul 25, 2007
I love the thought of introducing randomness and variety into our lives.

That's one of the reasons I enter any and all contests.
I've been to see some really usually shows and singers and...
that I never ever would have if I had paid.
Everything from a Star Trek Convention
to a Chanting by Monks
to an extremely artsy "This is my Uterus, I am the Mother of Mankind" theater bit.

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