Let's talk about luck...

playing cards - busted flush?

Everyone likes to think that they are uniquely good at whatever they do. And I think it’s true that everyone has something that makes them different from everyone else. But – I’m sorry to have to break this news – whether your unique skills are greeted with acclaim and riches, or whether they are enjoyed by just a select few people, has very little to do with the quality or nature of the work and the idea. It has everything to do with luck, plain and simple.

Successful people like to believe that they are successful entirely through their own efforts and hard work. The corollary of this is that if you are not successful, it’s your fault. In a world that believes you can become a star (in whatever field) simply by wanting it enough, those who don’t achieve global stardom have by definition simply not wanted it sufficiently, not worked hard enough.

Of course this is rubbish. A lot of very talented people never get that lucky break. A lot of talented people have their work recognised only after they’re dead. It’s luck, my friend. Luck, and timing – itself a part of the luck.

Let’s assume a minimum quality in the work concerned. After that, the most important ingredient for success is being in the right place at the right time – where the right people happen to like what you’re doing.

It was easier to understand this in a pre-internet world, where there were far fewer gatekeepers in publishing or film or galleries. An example might be a children’s animation series. When I was looking for an outlet for “Mona the Vampire”, there were perhaps four people in British television who had the money and the position to green-light the series. If those four didn’t like it, that was the end of it, never mind how good the idea and the work was. (In fact they didn’t, and I took the project to Canada, where it was eventually made.)

These days, the Internet means that – in theory – an artist can reach anyone in the world. But in practice it doesn’t work like that. There’s just too much stuff around, so a lucky few break through for a variety of unpredictable reasons (if you could predict a hit, we’d all be rich). The rest languish with a few dozen, hundreds, maybe thousands of supporters, but no global success.

My favourite (success) story to illustrate this is the tale of “Slumdog Millionaire”. The story goes that the producers had tried and failed to find theatrical distribution for the film, and were in an office about to sign a straight-to-DVD contract when there was a phone call on the mobile from a theatrical distributor who wanted the film, and who subsequently saw it through to Oscar-winning success. A matter of seconds made the difference between worldwide acclaim and modest sales in a DVD catalogue. Even if I have some of the detail wrong, it’s a story that’s true in so many ways.

So all I can say is – I wish you the very best of luck.