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How to be more lucky [#37]

Dominik Nitsch
6 min read
How to be more lucky [#37]
Photo by Barbara Krysztofiak / Unsplash
"Jeder ist seines Glückes Schmied." - German proverb

Remember that one tiny decision that changed your life forever, but seemed inconsequential at the time?

That was an inflection point: a point where your trajectory changes.

When I ask people what led to their inflection points, the most common answer is:

"I was lucky."

But somehow, some people are much more lucky than others. How is it possible that some people always have the best opportunities?

Because luck can be engineered.

Or, more precisely, that the probability to get lucky can be greatly increased by taking the right actions.

There are three parts to being more lucky:

  1. Increasing your luck surface area
  2. Recognizing a good opportunity
  3. Being decisive

Let’s dive in.

[1] Increasing your luck surface area

Who will catch more fish?

  • A one-man fishing boat using rods
  • A Chinese fish trawler

The trawler has a much wider net than the one-man fishing boat. The probability that the trawler will catch more fish than the one-man boat is almost 100%.

The same is true for luck. A common pattern I've observed in "lucky" people: they give themselves more opportunity for luck to strike.

They've increased their luck surface area, casting a wider net for luck to strike.

The formula to increasing your luck surface area is simple:

  1. Build a great network
  2. Give more than you take
  3. Do things and tell others about them
  4. Take a lot of shots on goal
  5. Surround yourself with optimists


The most important step to increasing your luck surface area is to be part of networks. The more people you know, the more likely an opportunity will find you.

A lot of the networks we're part of are implicit. It's our family, their socio-economic environment, our friend circle, the university we went to, the sports teams we're on.

Some of those you cannot control.

What you can control are the new ones you build.

I don't mean going to "networking events" or handing out business cards. Fuck that.

I mean building genuine, new connections with people.

This could be:

  • Joining a sports team, book club, choir
  • Hosting an event yourself and asking your friends to bring along some of theirs
  • Creating a group that matches with your interests

The last one is especially powerful: you're not the only one dying to meet new people. Others are too. By creating this group, you become the pivotal person for this group - a great way to expand your network.

Now you have a lot of exposure to new people. But that's not enough.

Give more than you take

Just being part of a network isn't sufficient. You need to have a good reputation inside that network.

The best way to get a good reputation is to give more than you take.

You could volunteer to take on tasks. Hosting is a great way to give without taking. Creating a group even more so.

"Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can for your country."

This applies to everything in life. Default to doing something nice for people. When they ask you for a favor, follow through.

It'll come back to you eventually: every kind thing you do is a potential opportunity for luck to strike in the future.

Do cool stuff and talk about it

Another way to increase your luck surface area is to simply be present in other people's minds.

A good example is this newsletter. While I cannot regularly communicate 1:1 with all of you, I can send out this newsletter.

Since you're reading this right now, I am top of your mind. So when something comes along where you think I might be able to help, there's a higher chance that you'll think of me.

Obviously, you can only talk about cool stuff online if you have anything to talk about.

So the first step is to have an interesting life: "in order to be interesting, be interested."

The truly insightful lessons aren't learned behind the keyboard.

They're learned in real life.

Increase your luck surface area by doing cool shit and talking about it.

Whether that's on social media of your choice, or in conversations with friends doesn't really matter.

Bonus tip: when you do something great at work, tell your boss about it. Don't brag, but make sure it's on their radar. Use the 4-bullet status update.

Take a lot of shots on goal

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" : r/DunderMifflin

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. - Wayne Gretzky" - Michael Scott

The best startups are in the right place at the right time. Even when executed perfectly, startups will still fail at times. A bit of luck is always involved. ^

However, a surefire way to never be at the right place at the right time is to never found a startup in the first place. A surefire way to never find a romantic partner is to never go on dates. A surefire way to never find a job is to never apply.

You can only score if you shoot.

Bonus: Surround yourself with optimists

"Pessimists sound smart, optimists tend to get lucky." - Sahil Bloom

Make sure you have enough people in your life that ask what's right with your idea, not what's wrong with it.

Now that you've increased your luck surface area, luck will strike eventually.

But that's not enough.

You also need to be able to recognize that you were just struck by luck.

We do this by ...

[2] Developing a sense for good opportunities

Typically, your gut feeling will tell you when such an opportunity arises.

At the inflection points in my life, I just “knew” that this was a huge opportunity.

But just like luck, gut feeling also needs to be engineered:

Your gut feeling is an intuitive understanding that you’ve calibrated by feeding it tons of data points, consciously or unconsciously. It's the "Blink" moment Malcolm Gladwell describes in the synonymous book.

To improve it, feed it as many data points as you can. Just like a machine learning model gets better with each parameter, your gut feeling gets better with each data point.

When I moved to Berlin, I looked at about 20 apartments before committing to any, so I had a solid idea of what a “good” deal looks like. So even if I couldn’t rationalize my reasoning just yet, my gut had enough data to be solidly calibrated.

In Mathematics, there's a formulaic approach to this: the "optimal stopping problem".

Let's take the apartment hunt as example. How many apartments should you look at before making a decision? Around 37% (here's the proof).

Say you have 30 days to hunt apartments, and on each day, you can visit 2 apartments. This means you look at 20 apartments and then commit to the first one you see that's better than any of the first 20.

The more data, the better you will become at spotting an opportunity.

But just like in the optimal stopping problem, you can't wait forever. When the opportunity comes and you recognize it, you'll need to act quickly and with full force.

[3] Being decisive

If your gut tells you this is it, say yes.

Don’t question too much. Don’t go back and forth. Don’t compare pros and cons.

Strike quickly.

Some opportunities are only there for a brief time.

Going back to the apartment example, the last step is: making a quick decision.

On my apartment hunt in Berlin, a beautiful flat was posted in one of the Slack channels I was part of.

  • I saw it 17 minutes later.
  • At T+20, I dialed the phone number in the advertisement.
  • At T+45, I was at the apartment looking at it.
  • At T+65, I verbally agreed to rent it.
  • At T+75, I called my flatmate to ask her what she thought of it.
  • At T+80, I told her that I had already said yes.

We still live in that house.

Luck is futile. Don’t let it pass by contemplating too much.

You worked hard for this opportunity.

Seize it.


For every apartment I’ve lived in in the past ten years, people have complemented me. “Man, you got so lucky that you have an apartment like this.”

Since this has now happened with four apartments, here's the pattern I've used so you can get lucky in your apartment hunt too:

    • Telling: Tell everyone that you’re looking for an apartment
    • Reputation: Have a reputation for being helpful, so people tend to help you more
    • Taking lots of shots on goal: Apply to a ton of apartments that you like
    • Network: Actually move to the city where you’re looking
    • Recognize the opportunity: Look at enough apartments to know what's "good"
    • Strike quickly: Sign the contract when you spot the perfect apartment

Apply this to life accordingly.

Luck can be engineered.

So the next time you're facing a decision, use the "Luck Razor":

When choosing between two paths, choose the path that has a larger luck surface area.

There you go.

Let's get lucky.

Dominik Nitsch

Proud generalist: Entrepreneur, Athlete, & Writer.