Microsoft, Dell, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, and Oprah Winfrey are household names. The individuals associated with them are billionaires, but three decades ago, they were mostly unknown, just young people with ideas and dreams. Some of the mega-wealthy of today were not even born then.
They are wealthy because of tremendous strokes of luck. Fate smiled upon them and they turned opportunity into wealth.
From another perspective, however, all 7 billion people in the world had the same opportunity to create Facebook as did young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. It is certainly true that several billion of them were not in a position to see it and snatch it up, simply because they do not use computers.
The other billions of people in the computing world were too busy doing other things to notice it. They were pursuing different educations and careers, were busy transporting kids to soccer games, or were too involved in television sports and sitcoms to notice the opportunity sitting right under their noses. Even Zuckerberg didn't notice the opportunity as such. He just tried something fun that people really liked. He was simply in the right place at the right time.
What would have happened if, instead of creating his original "Hot or Not" website, he decided to go out and throw a Frisbee around with his co-founder classmates. How would things be different if he decided to spend his time on community activism or writing history books?
There were already social media sites popping up at the time, and Facebook was just a clever way to share pictures and comments easily. Today Facebook is the largest social-media web site in the world. Young people take it for granted, but I find it amazing that I can easily carry on daily conversations and continue to work with people I met in Africa for no cost other than my internet connection. I regularly exchange ideas with people from India, Mexico, Switzerland, and many other countries around the world, people I would have little or no possibility of meeting without social media.
For anyone who is very successful, luck is a part of the story, but there is much more to it than luck. Facebook is very different than it was when it started. Whether you like its business model or not, the team has developed a massively successful method of generating revenue, which, in 2013, was nearly $8 billion.
Tremendous investments in hardware and personnel enabled the site to gear up for more than 100 million users worldwide. Someone, or rather lots of people, did many things right, overcame many obstacles, and rose above the inevitable bad luck.
As a host of professionals have noted, the harder they work, the luckier they get. Success comes because people place themselves in luck's path.
A surgeon isn't just lucky. He or she spent grueling years and many thousands of dollars building valuable skills. Even education dropouts, though, can prosper when they create value for others. Tradesmen can become millionaires when they leverage their skills and manage their businesses and finances prudently.
In every case, luck has something to do with it, but many successful people say that bad luck was their best teacher.
You can't give luck a chance to find you when you don't take chances, when you don't build skills, when you don't help others, when you don't do anything valuable or important. If you want to be lucky, go out and tell luck that you are available. It may take a while to find you, but if you are active, building skills, reputation and knowledge, time is on your side.
Daniel McLaughlin is a Randolph resident. Visit daniel-mclaughlin.com for more commentary, for links to other resources, or to leave a message.