October 2013

The Leyendecker View

Can We Control Luck?

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"Luck is believing you're lucky."

- Tennessee Williams

Publisher: Douglas Leyendecker
Managing Editor: Kelly Griego


Welcome to the Leyendecker View
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In our August TLV issue, we linked to a TED talk by Shannon Page. At twenty-one-years-old, Page was diagnosed with cervical cancer. While she had to undergo surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, she had a 90% chance of beating her cancer (and she did, fortunately). In her TED talk, Page mentions that while facing down the battle of her life, several people suggested how lucky she was to have gotten a cancer with such great survival odds. In her talk, Page says, "I did not feel lucky. In fact, I would like to give the luck back."


Luck is a funny thing, something that's hard to grasp. At best, we might define it as something magical and mysterious. At worst, it may make us jealous or suspicious. One thing seems clear about it: Some people seem to have perpetual good luck, while others seem to fall on bad luck repeatedly.


What is it with all these people for whom most everything seems to go their way, who appear to live charmed lives? Why are they so lucky, and others aren't? Do they know or do something others don't?


A recent scientific study showed that the superstitious act of knocking on wood can actually reverse bad luck and the expectation of it. This implies we may have some control over our luck. 


Imagine you declared, "I've never gotten into a car accident." Soon after, you may think, "Have I tempted fate? Did I increase the odds that I will soon have an accident?" With that, negative expectations are set.


According to this study on superstition, it appears that by engaging in some sort of "avoidant action," like throwing salt over your shoulder, you can sufficiently reverse the negative expectation and, thus, your perception of your own luck. Three knocks on wood do not summon magical elves to protect a person. But it does appear adequate enough to permit a more positive thought to replace the negative one.


Is good luck some mystical force we're born with, or is luck something we can learn and achieve? According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, good luck is learnable through reshaping our perceptions and expectations. In his book, The Luck Factor, Wiseman reports on his eight-year study of luck and explains how people can improve their luck by recognizing and exploiting chance opportunities, trusting gut feelings, expecting good things and seeing the silver lining in bad things.


This "Dateline" segment offers a high level synopsis of Wiseman's findings about luck.


In a nutshell, people who consider themselves lucky are more inclined to find something positive in a bad experience, they tend to notice more opportunities that can lead to good things and they demonstrate perseverance. In other words, "lucky" people keep their eyes open for good things, and make the most of both the good and the bad experiences.


While enduring treatment for her cervical cancer, Shannon Page met a doctor who told her, "You are going to live. But we have to get you back into your body." She instructed Page to take up yoga, which Page credits for transforming her life post-cancer. Using the power of the doctor's positive expectation, combined with the physical and spiritual power of yoga, Page found good health - and a career as a yoga instructor and motivational speaker.


Getting a cancer diagnosis that would put her into depression and eliminate her ability to have children? Pretty unlucky. Being able to, with time, see the experience as an opportunity to change her life for the better and carve out a successful, fulfilling career from it? Pretty lucky.


It seems that luck is much less what happens to you, and much more what you do with what happens to you and comes your way.


Inevitably, bad things will come our way. They will come everyone's way. Even the so-called charmed have their share of less than fortunate times. It's those who can turn misfortune into good fortune who will be perceived as lucky, by others and themselves.


Read on below in this month's special section on scientifically proven ways you can become one of those annoyingly lucky people.


"Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


General Economic Perspectives
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It's almost comical how much debate and consternation takes place these days over the topic of economy. It dominates our daily headlines. Given the recent employment data, we continue to find ourselves in an economy that's "growing," but just not growing very well. And once we consider the enormous government stimulus behind our economy, it certainly makes us wonder about the sustainability of whatever growth we seem to have.


Worry over the Federal Reserve taking away the monetary punch bowl has stock and bond market investors paying keen attention to every word Bernanke and the other Fed governors speak, and every last economic data point released. If ever there was a case of the butterfly effect, today's professional investor sentiment seems ripe for any and all wing flapping.


Certain parts of the economy are growing, and are growing robustly. We know this down in Houston because we are the engine of that growth train. Enormous amounts of private sector capital have been and will continue to be invested in our growing natural resource production, as well as the waterfall infrastructure needed to support it.


Evidence of this growth can be found by looking at auto sales. These days, three of the four top selling vehicles are pick-up trucks, each with sales growth of over 20% from a year ago. The third highest selling vehicle is the Toyota Camry, which has only increased sales 1.3% in the last year.


Leading the pack by a wide margin is the Ford F-150. Ford can't make F-150 pick-ups fast enough, not because it's become the hot new ride for Hollywood movie stars, New York media celebs or Silicon Valley tech gods. Ford is benefiting from the growth of the "redneck economy," so to speak. We don't mean this disparagingly; jobs typically thought of as filled by rednecks are the foundation to all economy. The more rednecks that have jobs, the better our economy is doing.

The Hiring Market & Chart of the Month
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Expanding on the idea of a redneck economic index, we decided to take a look at job growth for those fine folks who keep Levi's and Wrangler in the chips. It's not easy navigating the enormous amount of data accumulated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And since we don't have either Larry Summers' or Paul Krugman's staff, we looked just at job growth in two sectors of the economy: Mining & Logging and Transportation & Warehousing. Rednecks seem most likely to work in these two employment sectors. Below are the employment numbers for each of these two sectors from 2000 on. 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Managing the Modern Day
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Perception is reality, whether you like it or not.


Given the enormous debate going on in Washington and among voters across the country, it seems fair to suggest that - the "truth" is what you want to believe. Another way to say it may be, the truth is what you need to believe. 


Truth is what we need it to be in order to justify our beliefs, to ensure our view of the world is definable, and that we have a sense of what is right, wrong or out of place. We justify our truths because they are what define us. We use them to make decisions and take action. They give us a sense of belonging to some group within society.


Living by some version of "truths" is also necessary. Without them, how could any individual, company or entity move forward, make decisions or take action? But today's truths are enormously fragmented and debated. Why else would politicians and voters be so polarized?


There is one truth about which we can all probably agree...People seem less happy today than in a long time. This truth is evidenced by the enormous growth in antidepressant use around the country. Why are we so unhappy? The deafening debate over what is true seems a likely cause, but then what's behind the contentiousness?


The answer seems simple. Too Much Information is forcing us to make too many decisions, form too many opinions, and it's creating too-high expectations. So if you want to find a little peace of mind, get unplugged far more often. 

BLS Corner
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Highlights from the latest Employment Situation release:

  • Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 148,000 in September, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.2%. Employment increased in construction, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.1%), adult women (6.2%), teenagers (21.4%), whites (6.3%), blacks (12.9%), and Hispanics (9.0%) showed little or no change in September. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.3%, little changed from a year earlier.
  • Both the civilian labor force participation rate, at 63.2%, and the employment-population ratio at 58.6%, were unchanged in September. Over the year, the labor force participation rate has declined by 0.4 percentage point, while the employment-population ratio has changed little.
Can We Control Luck?
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"Luck affects everything; let your hook always be cast;

in the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish."

- Ovid


The science of luck: Luck means being open

Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivor's Club, explains how the science of luck reveals that there is a lucky personality and an unlucky personality. Sherwood reiterates one of Richard Wiseman's experiments to understand the differences between the fortunate and unfortunate. In short, those who consider themselves unlucky repeatedly fail to see opportunities in front of their noses, and thus miss chances that can open doors to new, lucrative and happy experiences.



A cheat sheet for becoming luckier

Don't have time to read The Luck Factor? This post nicely distills the four principles Wiseman says are the ticket to increasing your luck, as well as offers tactics to incorporate the four points into your life. As excerpted or summarized from Wiseman's book:


1)    Maximize opportunities: "Lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives."

2)    Listen to hunches: "Lucky people make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings."

3)    Expect good fortune, even after failure: "Lucky people attempt to achieve their goals, even if their chances of success seem slim, and persevere in the face of failure."

4)    Turn bad luck into good: Lucky people do not dwell on bad luck and take proactive steps to avoid more ill fortune in the future.


Warren Buffett on luck

How great would it be to be Warren Buffet's kid, right? Buffett acknowledges that there is some luck that goes into where and to whom we are born. But these things merely put you in a place with certain people. As Buffett said in a Bloomberg TV segment: "How you came out of the womb has really nothing to do with what kind of person you are. You decide what kind of person you're going to be." Click here for the full interview.


How thoughts can change your reality

This video sheds light on the power of imagination to manifest physical changes. Imagination and action engage the same neural pathways, which means that practicing one influences the other. Take this incredible study: Two groups did the same finger muscle exercises for four weeks, yet one group only imagined doing the exercises. The group that exercised physically increased their strength by 30%. The group that imagined the exercise increased their strength a whopping 22%! This is because the same neurons responsible for movement instruction were still used and strengthened, manifesting in a tangible change. Change, like beginning to believe you are lucky, starts with thinking about the change and believing it will be. Maybe there is a little magic to luck after all. (This article goes into greater detail about how looking for luck means you will find it.)


21 ways people get so lucky in life

Author Bob Miglani lists the behaviors and attitudes of the successful and lucky people who taught him luck is not something we're born into, it's something we create for ourselves. Some standout traits of the lucky are:

  • They start their day with a morning ritual - meditation, a morning run, a quiet cup of coffee - to overcome those debilitating stress thoughts that can often greet us in the morning and set us up for a bad day.
  • They accept that there will never be a perfect time, which helps them embrace opportunities when they come and then make it the perfect time for them.
  • They quiet their overthinking mind every day, which helps quiet the negative and naysaying thoughts.
  • They admit their limitations and make constant learning a priority. They also apologize quickly and then move on from the mistake.

"Passion is BS," and other life advice from the "Dilbert" cartoon creator

In this great interview, "Dilbert" creator, Scott Adams, shares his thoughts on what makes success. Adams speaks repeatedly about the perseverance angle of luck (perseverance being a scientifically proven requisite trait for the lucky). A quote from Adams: "You can't control luck directly, but you can move from a game with bad odds to a game with good odds. The world is like a reverse casino. In a casino, if you gamble long enough, you're certainly going to lose. But in the real world, where the only thing you're gambling is, say, your time or your embarrassment, then the more stuff you do, the more you give luck a chance to find you. If you do one thing and stop, you didn't give luck a chance to find you. You only need one thing to work."


"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

- Thomas Jefferson

News You Can Use
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The Economy


Buying power of income is dropping

Real wages, wages after adjustment for inflation, have been on a steady decline, and are now 7% below their 2006 levels. Meaning your income buys you less now than it did then. Since 2010, inflation has risen about 2% per year. Yet in the same period, average annual wage growth has been just 0.9%. With inflation outpacing wage increases, our money doesn't go as far.


Jobs currently showing strongest wage increases

PayScale compiled a list of jobs by category with strongest wage growth in Q3 2013. Surprisingly, Media & Publishing jobs took the one-spot, with wages increasing by almost 4%. The national average wage increase rate for Q3 was 1.7%, which wages in the financial sector now lag.




8 common ego traps that could be holding you back as a leader

Two in five CEOs fail within their first 18 months. Critical to success is emotional intelligence and staying grounded. Ego is a common culprit behind delusions of grandeur and not connecting with your team. Here are eight ways you might be holding yourself back, and eight fixes to, well, get over yourself. Some common traps:

  • Ignoring or avoiding feedback you don't want to hear
  • Underestimating how much you are being watched, from what time you come into the office to whom you do and do not praise
  • Surrounding yourself with people like you and viewing those who disagree as not being team players

Respect is a requirement to a productive workplace

Employees who feel respected feel happier and more fulfilled on the job, and are thus harder working. Leaders must create a respectful environment, one where people can give and receive constructive feedback without fear of retribution. (Related hiring tip: Determine in advance of giving an offer if you respect that person. If you don't, don't hire them.)


Management & Hiring

What employers get wrong when writing job descriptions

Most job descriptions emphasize specific educational, skills and years of experience requirements. This omits the strongest indicator for a person's potential to do a job: past performance. Job descriptions that focus on key performance objectives are more effective. They are more attractive to people who are, by nature, performers, and preclude the risk of losing otherwise great candidates because they don't meet the arbitrary specific requirements.


Ten things employees want more than a raise

These days, raises are harder to come by. But the good news is, employees value some intangibles equally, if not more than, money. And when they're in place, workers are happier and will often work for less pay. Some examples of what workers want to feel fulfilled and incentivized to stay with you:

  • To feel proud to say what they do
  • To see the jerks get fired
  • To be heard by their managers
  • To still be able to have a personal life

The New America

Where even the middle class can't afford to live anymore

While incomes in high-cost cities tend to be higher, they're no longer high enough for the middle class to be able to afford residence in these cities. Take this startling fact: If you're middle-class in Akron, Ohio, 86% of the homes are accessible. If you earn median income in San Francisco, that number tumbles to 14%. See the chart below where even the upper middle-class are getting priced out.


Mindfulness is invading the workplace and changing how we view success

Mindfulness is officially going mainstream, and more and more companies are encouraging their employees to nurture their connectedness to themselves in order to feel more energized and motivated in the office. At the crux is the changing definition of success, which is moving away from just achievements to something that includes well-being, curiosity, compassion, harmony and happiness. Success is ever more about tending to the whole self, not just the work self.

Thanks for reading The Leyendecker View. We hope you find these perspectives unique, insightful and valuable.

We at Leyendecker & Associates are committed to the highest standards of value creation. 
Doug Leyendecker Jim Ford David Prodoehl Kelly Griego