Dr. Helen

The Post-Modern Emphasis on "Dumb Luck"

Have you noticed an uptick in the media, liberal politics and in books of the role dumb luck plays in how one gets to be successful? Case in point, I was listening to a radio talk show the other day and the author, Robert Frank was talking about his new book Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.

As far as I could discern, the author’s basic premise seemed to be “You didn’t build that, dumb luck and good fortune did.” Sure, he tried not to be too PC and stated that people have to be willing to work or be available for opportunities in order to be successful, but it still boiled down to some external factor that you don’t control. In the old days of psychology, we called this “external locus of control” and it was generally viewed as a negative in terms of success.

You might be familiar with the terms external and internal locus of control but if not, here are the differences:

Internal vs. External Locus of Control

People who base their success on their own work and believe they control their life have an internal locus of control. In contrast, people who attribute their success or failure to outside influences have an external locus of control.

For example, let’s say you’re a person with an internal locus of control and you get a promotion at work or achieve some other type of success. You will probably attribute that positive end result to the work you put in. In other words, your success was a direct result of your hard work.

If, on the other hand, you have an external locus of control, you might attribute that promotion or success to external or environmental factors, such as luck, fate, timing, other people or some type of divine intervention.

Let’s use the same example and say that you were denied a promotion. If your locus of control is internal, you would find a way to blame yourself for the perceived failure. If your locus of control is external, it would be easy, even natural, to blame outside sources beyond your control. …
The Benefits and Drawbacks

Individuals who identify with an internal locus of control tend to take more responsibility for their actions, whether those actions or the end results are good or bad. They do not accept outside influence for the outcomes, no matter what that is. If, for example, this person did not get back to work in time from lunch, they would think they should have eaten in the office or not gone to lunch altogether. The results of the action are theirs and theirs alone to bear.

On the other hand, a person who identifies with an external locus of control looks at everything around them as part of the success or failure. In many ways, they believe in the team aspect more than those that focus on the internal locus of control, as they will always praise those around them for a job well done, even if they had nothing to do with it at all. They are team players.

Blaming outside sources, being a conformist “team player” and believing in dumb luck rather than hard work sounds like the liberal mantra these days. Now external locus of control is somehow seen as a positive even if it leads to the failure of individuals or the country as a whole.

Attributing one’s success in life to dumb luck makes it politically expedient for politicians to raise taxes on those who are successful and pander to the “less fortunate” by telling them nothing is their fault as they are victims of circumstances beyond one’s control. The unsuccessful (who are the majority) feel vindicated and the politicians have goodies to pretend to distribute–the goodies of those with dumb luck.

Are you a successful person who was the recipient of dumb luck? If so, what dumb luck found you? Did you win the lottery, have rich relatives or find a donor to fund your business?