How much is business success due to luck? Quite a bit – but the best entrepreneurs have the ability to make their own luck.

That was the message from speakers at the Hiscox/Ri seminar in London on Wednesday.

Dr Stephann Makri, a lecturer at London’s City University, likes to use the term “serendipity” for what is essentially self-made luck. He says it contains three key ingredients: unexpected circumstances, insightful “a-ha moments”, and a valuable unanticipated outcome.

We can increase our chances of enjoying serendipity by making our minds more adept at having “a-ha moments”, and to take action to turn those unexpected circumstances into valuable outcomes, said Makri.

To do that we need to move out of our comfort zone and embrace new ideas. He said NESTA, the innovation charity, randomly pairs off its employees to have coffee together each week. People who previously were strangers get to know each other, which helps to spark new ideas. It’s also good to take a step back from our day-to-day routine, whether by having lunch away from your desk or taking a yoga class, to give yourself what Makri terms “the mental space” to have “a-ha moments”.

But people’s perception of what is lucky or unlucky differs according to their attitude, said Dr Matthew Smith, a senior Psychology lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University. He asked audience members to imagine they are queuing in a bank, when suddenly robbers storm in. One of them shoots a gun and the bullet hits you in the arm. Do you consider yourself to be lucky?

Some would think they were massively unlucky to be the only person in the queue to be shot; others, on the other hand, would feel they were very fortunate to be hit in the arm, not the head.

People who consider themselves to be lucky tend to be able to see the silver lining in a bad situation, said Smith. That’s because they’re capable of what psychologists call “counterfactual thinking”: they compare what happened with what could have happened, and so they feel lucky it wasn’t much worse. These people also tend to be more resilient, in the sense they can pick themselves up from a bad event, pick out the positives (no matter how small they are) and move on.

This idea of luck coming from a positive mental attitude was picked up Doug Miller, a business author and speaker. “We all know people who have encountered enormous slices of luck. But I think that we should look beyond the straitjacket of fate,” Miller said.

Successful business people are good at “luck spotting,” he says. They have an uncanny ability to find opportunities in places where most other people don’t think to look. Often that’s because they’re more open minded and willing to adapt to the unexpected. They also tend to have a more positive self-image: “people who think they are capable of more, tend to achieve more,” said Miller.

In his travels throughout the world “everyone I see who succeeds are the ones who work the hardest… Hard work is a key predictor of whether you get luck.”

Sarah Curran, CEO of, wasn’t happy with the term luck in business. “It sounds too naïve to me,” she said. For her, it isn’t luck which will get you where you want to be in business, it’s recognising the opportunities presented to you and seizing them.

Her own “a-ha moment” came when she was a journalist. Walking home from work with a friend one day, her companion was shot in the backside. Bad luck for him, but it convinced her to get out of her old job and do what she really wanted to do – follow a career in fashion.

She took chances, first as a journalist then in the fashion world, which eventually gave her the skills to be able to run her own business. “You can’t build a business or a brand on luck. I got where I am today by working seriously hard and through giving my blood, sweat and tears.”

So what do you think? Is it luck, hard work or a combination of the two? Please feel free to share your a-ha moments with us.