Rolling the dice

I don’t gamble. I don’t go to casinos and roll the dice or play the slots or get in on a game of blackjack. I just don’t. I know what the odds are. So I say to myself that if I’m going to gamble on anything it might as well be myself. My ideas and my own drive. That way it’s personal and I have some modicum of control over the outcome.

At least that’s the theory anyway. Get an idea and try to build it.

But I begin to realize that there might be an illusion to this sense of control. In fact starting a business and being successful may be just as much of a gamble as rolling the dice. Because in some ways the stars do need to line up just right for it all to work out. You know, past all that hard work and motivation, comes the unknown. That which is out of your hands.

I just finished the biography of Steve Jobs. Which was a great book and I think I finished it in record time considering it just came out last week. But it was of great interest to me since I am both an Apple fanboy and a tech entrepreneur. But it occurred to me that he didn’t just have good taste, passion and intelligence, he got lucky as well.

Let’s face it, he was the right age, at the right time in history when computers were just beginning to get personal. Beyond that he got lucky in meeting Steve Wozniak who himself was a brilliant young engineer. He was socially awkward enough that he spent his time making little gadgets and computers and was willing to follow Steve Jobs down his visionary path long enough for Jobs to get a foothold in the industry and make a little coin.

Then of course there is that whole “in the right place” factor that comes into play. I mean this was a guy who was in the right place when silicon valley was just taking off and companies like HP and Atari were in town doing some cool things. Where all of his neighbors growing up were engineers and where one of his first jobs was at Atari during a time when he could look in the paper and find hundreds of “for hire” ads for people without a degree and experience.

There were a lot of stars that lined up for Steve Jobs to become what he had became. Including his personality type, his past experiences and his sense of quality and taste. But also timing. They even say it in the book, that ever couple of decades a certain window of opportunity opens up for a new industry to be born. He was there when the personal computer window opened up.

So in some ways it’s not all that different than going to the casino and rolling the dice. At some point it’s out of hands and it will fall as it falls. It’s more than just having the motivation and the passion and a good idea. There are just so many uncontrollable factors that play into it all. I mean after all, how many of us have heard about someone who had a great idea but they were either ahead of their time or behind it or they didn’t know the right people or they weren’t in the right place at the right time? Just enough that it didn’t take off. They bet the farm and they failed. But not for lack of trying or even bad execution of that idea. Just bad timing. A fickle market, uninterested or unknowing.

Of course none of this should be discouraging. It just means that we’re all gamblers, we just play different games with different outcomes. We take a gamble in hopes that we are at the right place, at the right time and know the right people when a market is there for what we want to do. We have some control. Just like we can pick up the dice and toss them one way or another. But in the end there is just so much that is out of our hands.

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