Can You Do It Again?

Can you do it again? We come across successes sometimes, ourselves and from others. But if you can’t reproduce it, it was likely luck.

Luck Vs. Success

Everyone will come across some form of wild success at least once in their life. Perhaps you have an investment that hits big, or you pull off a major accomplishment. At the very least, you’ll pull something improbable like hitting a basketball shot from half-court or throwing a paper ball into a trash can from across the office.

When these successes come, we’re prone to believing we achieved it ourselves. Very few biographies of the successful attribute it all, or even in part, to luck. The street baller who hits from half-court will usually start talking shit.

This is unavoidable. It’s a natural human impulse. You’d have to have an especially low self-esteem not to believe that you’re responsible for what you’ve achieved.

Can You Do It Again?

If you can’t repeat the success, you likely were not responsible for it. At least in the main.

“Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Create a hypothetical where you run the same situation back 100 times, or 1,000 times. Would you achieve the same result in the majority of those situations?

We accept the role of luck all the time when we fail, but not when we succeed. And this is hugely dangerous. For if you’re blinded by the natural human tendency to assume you were responsible, you won’t adopt a rational mental model. You might go into the same situation again, next time, when the stakes are even higher, with the exact same strategy. And you’ll probably lose – big – wiping out whatever gains you made the first time around.

We see this all the time in investments. Someone strikes it lucky – say with cryptocurrencies, digital tulips. Or at the casino. And they double down, bankrupting themselves when the next wave hits. But it’s not just gambling – this applies to everything. Whether it’s sports, academic success, workplace advancement, whatever – if you’re not finding reproducible ways to succeed, you haven’t really found a way to succeed at all.

How Can You Do It Again?

There are a couple ways to improve your strategies and chances at success:

  • Work on increasing your luck surface area
  • Develop mind memetics that allow you to rationally observe the causes and effects of your actions
  • Remove your ego from your successes, and your failures
  • Limit downside: it’s OK to revel in the bounties of random success, but protect yourself against the major losses. If you win with a risky bet, try making some safer bets for a while until you’re able to bet big again without breaking the bank
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat – on a small scale. If you keep winning, you might be on to something. But small sample sizes have ruined many a man in the long run. Test rigorously.

I’ve observed this many times in my own life, from betting strategies, to investments, to productivity tricks. There’s nothing you can do but to keep improving. But knowing that you’re likely an idiot that’s benefitting from luck in many scenarios will keep you humble, and at least prevent the social embarrassment that comes when it all comes crashing down.

Hopefully, you’ll have protected your downside when it does.


Information can be a cruel force, even inside our own heads. Fascinated? Join thousands: subscribe for email updates and follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

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