Last Updated on 27 January 2021 by F.R.Costa

To what extent are life events driven by chance? Does it matter which shoe you put on first? Should you take decisions driven by a hunch? The answer isn’t easy but Max Gunther helps us understand.

Life isn’t always simple and unlikely events do happen, which aren’t well explained neither by science nor religion. “If something can go wrong, it will” and we shouldn’t keep blaming ourselves because we are never in total control. Randomness is challenged everyday by extreme events. Just look at the stock market, for example. Sometimes it crashes madly. Now imagine that you had just started investing on 11 September 2001. How unlucky would have that been? Was it destined to happen? Was it a consequence of the position of the stars at the time?

“My horoscope says so. Maybe that sounds like superstition to you, but listen, when you’ve had as much hard luck as I have, you begin to wonder what it’s all about. I tried religion, but that didn’t give me any good answers. Finally a friend got me interested in astrology, and I was amazed by how accurate it is. See, my sun sign is Scorpio, but I’ve got Saturn and Mars in the wrong places and a lot of other problems. Nearly forty years of problems from the day I was born.

The Luck Factor, p. 14

When things turn nasty, we tend to start seeking for magic answers for what’s happening. The randomness theory seems incapable of explaining it. How come that an investor could start investing exactly at that 11 September? But “the odds are always against what happens”. Always keep in mind that “the First Law of Probability is “anything can happen,” and the Second Law is “if it can happen, it will.” Hence don’t take it personally.

Nevertheless, chance is many times partly under control. Some people just do have more luck than others in finding a partner, a job and in fulfilling life with good things. If you’re unknown, you can’t be found. How can you find a girl if you stay at home most of the time? How can you be recommended for a good job if you work alone and have no social life at all? You need a spider network. The greater this network, the greater the chances of turning luck in your favour.

A lot of them [lucky people] are simply people who have somehow made themselves known to many other people, usually without thinking about it. It’s their style. They’re gregarious. They go out of their way to be friendly. They talk to strangers. They’re joiners, meeters, greeters. If they sit next to somebody on an airplane, they start a conversation. The guy who sells them their morning newspaper is more than just a face. They know his name and how many kids he has and where he went on his vacation.”

The Luck Factor, p. 99

Max Gunther shows many examples of normal people who just have luck because of the way they interact with others. Shy people tends to just have less luck in life because of the lack of interaction with other people.

While total control for life events is an illusion, and then we should learn to deal with chance, we should never put our destiny in Fortunas hands. “For Fortuna, when you lean against her too hard, often steps aside” and “God helps those who help themselves.”

Luck should be driven by hard work. We should always research thoroughly our topic, being it investment, work or relationships, before taking decisions, instead of putting ourselves in destiny’s hands. There are things that can’t be beaten and there are people that is just lazy. Being superstitious doesn’t help on these cases. But when you do your homework being superstitious doesn’t hurt.

One interesting point Max Gunther put forward is about a hunch.

A hunch is a conclusion that is based on perfectly real data– on objective facts that have been accurately observed, efficiently stored, logically processed in your mind. The facts on which the hunch is based, however, are facts you don’t consciously know. They are stored and processed on some level of awareness just below or behind the conscious level. This is why a hunch comes with that peculiar feeling of almost- but- not- quite- knowing. It is something that you think you know, but you don’t know how you know it.

The Luck Factor, p. 112

A hunch is usually a good thing and something on which we may trust to take decisions, provided that such a hunch is like an educated guess coming from someone with so much experience on that particular field that he can process the information so fast that solutions come almost instantaneously from inside the brain with many times being difficult to explain how. I usually go out for a run three times a week, for a distance of around 10km. Frequently, at some point, in the middle of the run, I ask myself what will be the average final pace for that particular run. Luckily, I usually get it exactly right! It’s a kind of hunch but and educated one. I have a lot of experience about my own run and my brain processes an answer unconsciously before I can even become aware of what’s going on. So, we should trust this kind of hunches, for most of the time. As for a hunch about a red number coming out of the roulette wheel turn… Well you know.

The stock market is no different than the rest kind of events in life.

The luckiest market players are those who recognize the market as at least partly a game of luck, not a game of pure reason. Clever reasoning can certainly help in stock speculation, but not in terms of far forecasts. It is doubtful that any Wall Street pro knows any more about the stock market’s long- term future than do I [Max Gunther]…

The Luck Factor, p. 74

Thus the lesson for to learn is that we should do our homework and research the market before placing any bets. We shouldn’t trust much on analysts and forecasters. We should learn how to evaluate on our own and always realise that we will never be in control.

Never take a loss personally and just try harder and harder.

The Luck Factor was first published in 1977. Harriman House published a second edition this year. Here are some details about the digital version of the book (from Amazon.com):

  • File Size : 1078 KB
  • Publication Date : August 11, 2020
  • Print Length : 163 pages
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Publisher : Harriman House; 2nd Edition (August 11, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech : Not enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
  • ASIN : B08BWZMT78
  • X-Ray : Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader : Supported

About F.R.Costa

Filipe has more than 20 years experience with financial markets. He holds a degree in Economics with a specialisation in Finance and he's currently finishing a PhD in Finance. He used to work as financial consultant and research associate but then decided to return to academia five years ago. Since that, he has been an Invited Lecturer, teaching courses on Investments, Financial Markets, and Monetary Economics. He is also a regular contributor writer at The Master Investor Magazine.

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