How Randomness Rules Your Life
You know by now from reading my newsletters—and I deliberately repeat myself here—that it is crucial for your success in life and business to know about your brain and understand how it works. As I have said before:
Our brain is capable of greatness but hardwired for survival.
The most important feeling the brain craves is the feeling of being safe. Being safe creates a chemical equilibrium that our brain sees as comfortable, or “how it should be.” When this equilibrium is disturbed, our brain becomes nervous, scared or panicky. Over the course of thousands of years, the brain has developed strategies to experience this feeling of being safe as often as possible. One of these strategies belongs to my newly created category of “brain traits that make me mad upon discovery!”
I’m referring to the brain’s strategy to see patterns, connections and meaning in completely unrelated, random things.
Why is this important to know and understand? It is important because it has consequences for our decision-making style, our project planning and our celebration of success and punishment of failures.
Consider this: The strategy your team developed for your last project seemed to cause great results. Perhaps those great results were actually caused by simple luck and random success. When you use the same seemingly powerful strategy on your next project, it will be doomed because it was randomness, not the strategy, that created the great results in the first place!
While having lunch with a potential German business partner, you see two VW Beetles pass by in just five minutes. The synchronicity you see leads you to say “yes” to his proposal because you think it is a sign from the universe that this German business contact is one of high quality, just like a VW; therefore, you should do business with him! Perhaps, instead, it is simply randomness, and you have now made a poor business decision based on an erroneous conclusion!
Reflect on the lucky CEO who received $40 million in bonuses at the end of the year as a reward for the great performance of his company. Perhaps he had no more to do with that success than the unlucky CEO who was fired before him—the one who, after a year of leading the same company, received just $20 million in bonuses as part of a parachute package. Maybe in both cases it was randomness and luck, rather than genius leadership, that caused the fluctuating numbers in the company’s stock market value.
Our brain sees meaning, patterns and synchronicity because it likes having the power of bringing order to chaos. A completely random universe minimally affected by our abilities, competencies and strategies is simply not attractive to our brain. So it creates the illusion of a cause-and-effect connection to make us feel in control.
As a translation into practice, I invite you to do the following experiment: For one week listen to other people talk about their lives and what they’re up to. Try to determine if they are taking credit for or creating drama about events that are really just random occurrences. Honestly consider what role luck or random success has played in your life.
My personal results so far: I am more relaxed and more humble. On issues where luck and randomness play a much bigger role than my abilities or power, I have let go of trying to be in control and forcing things into existence. Becoming aware of my brain’s addiction to creating meaning where there is none has helped me enjoy the mystery of life much more by allowing me to simply be in awe.
This article was inspired by my ongoing reading of The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow.
I would love to know what you think after reading this article and what lessons you take from it.