Wynn-ing Ways: How Talent, Skill, and Luck Determine Your Success

What makes a winner?

In publishing, the single biggest factor is storytelling.

Yet, you and I would agree on a successful author or two who don’t possess exceptional storytelling talent.

Why do they succeed?

Is it a system or formula that helps those who may not be the most talented?

The courses and forums suggest processes that have resulted in some success, but the results are varied when applied.

Successful authors who have been able to apply some practices to grow eventually see diminishing returns.

My observation is that it’s a meta-system—a combination of interconnected decision-making and business practices that result in success.

Authors who adapt and improve the systems as new information comes to light have steadier growth. They are quick to adjust and understand how to become better and better at customer delight, not advertising or copywriting but connecting with customers at an emotional level.

It has to be a system that includes adaptation to change and the use of limited information.

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If you watched The Queen’s Gambit, you’ve gotten a taste for how much of chess is measuring movements and thinking through counter-movements.

While chess is a suitable metaphor for strategy and “thinking a few moves ahead,” the combination of moves is finite, and chance is limited to your opponent’s decisions.

Poker has all the competitive pressure of opponents, the wide variations of outcomes produced by the cards dealt, and the limited information you have from exposed cards.

Annie Duke learned the value of decision-making in the uncertainty of professional poker.

Annie developed her skill set in the poker rooms of Las Vegas. Not as a shark looking to fleece tourists like in the old Stardust poker room, but in no-limit hold ’em where professional players play for gold bracelets and million-dollar pots.

These elite players play for high stakes fourteen hours a day for week-long tournaments.

Annie hasn’t played professionally for years. She speaks and writes on decision-making.

A decision-making system made Annie a champion, not luck. Without the method, she wouldn’t have been able to turn those few lucky hands into tournament wins.

Learning from the past is one of the most significant ways to get better.

That means you need a method for reviewing the tapes and identifying areas where you may have made mistakes or where essential information was lost in the fog of war.

Writing down what information you based a decision on in the past and then going back and looking at what helped or hurt the decision will teach you what needs to be improved in your decision-making skills.

Now you see why having a decision journal is helpful. It is a place to work through the tough ones and reflect on how things played out afterward.

Top sports players review past plays of themselves and their competitors. Here, they can identify strengths and weaknesses in themselves and others.

Here is an excellent example from Andre Agassi. He learned a key “tell” of Boris Becker and then had to decide when and when not to use it.

You’ll get luckier by taking the time to optimize your decision-making through reviewing and reflecting on past products of your decision-making system (a choice and outcome).

Talent versus skill versus luck

In Advantage, I discuss three areas that influence your success—talent, skill, and luck.

Some folks are naturally good at it, and this talent gives them a leg up. Natural talent can give you a good start, but you can offset this with skill and luck.

In publishing, this manifests when you read a book in the top 100, and you can’t see how such “bad writing” results in such high sales.

The success of that book is built on years of audience-building and focus on what readers desire to read, not natural talent or beautiful prose.

Skill can augment and offset talent deficiencies.

Craft courses can compensate for talent deficiencies.

You are improving your business and marketing skills by reading these articles.

Most authors feel they are not natural talents for this business thing. You can become more competitive by learning skills to help offset those shortcomings.

Then there’s luck. Luck is how we communicate our interpretation of an uncertain outcome. This makes up a big part of life.

Do we make our luck? I argue we do.

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Let’s go back to the golf course.

My old man was a golf hustler. He played to a seven handicap and always played for money. He had talent and skill.

His mother also played golf. Grandma played into her nineties and constantly shot under 100.

I didn’t play like either of them.

One time, we were all playing together, and I observed how she had all these different clubs in her bag, but she hit none of them over 150 yards. Fancy driver, maybe 160 yards, but everything else I could outdistance with a nine iron.

How was it that this old lady with no big drive constantly beat me?

You see, it didn’t matter that I was younger, bigger, stronger, and could hit the ball farther because when I did, I didn’t know where it would go.

The harder I swung, the more uncertainty I put into play.

Grandma drove the ball straight and into the fairway. She never got into trouble.

Her boring golf game made her an above-average golfer.

If you study the game, you understand the short game is where the magic happens.

When you look at the statistics of the game, 60% of the shots taken are less than 100 yards, with 42% using the putter.

Grandma is an example of skill off-setting talent. She had a skilled short game that offset the inability to hit a big drive.

Furthermore, there was a low probability of her getting into trouble. She hit the ball straight. There was control of the outcome through an increased likelihood of the ball going where she wanted it to go.

The golf industry doesn’t sell “golf like grandma.” They sell “swing like a big dog.”

I visited a top golf equipment website and looked up the most expensive driver and putter they sold. The high-priced driver was $699, and the highest-cost putter was $499. The lowest-cost driver was $229, and the putter was $39.

The pricing suggests that the market plays into the myth of the big drive and not the short game.

If I spend more on a driver that somehow hits further with more accuracy, I’ll play better.

However, there are few holes where a driver is the best choice and certainly not used as frequently as the putter.

The intuition is that if you can’t hit long distances, spend more on a driver and spend more time at the driving range. You’ll get to the green faster.

It’s an obvious and wrong decision.

If you want to be a great golfer, perfect your putting and short game.

Decision-making is life’s short game.

While super important for your business, using the same system to determine the best choices in your personal life will result in happiness and prosperity. As a self-employed author, your personal and business life are intertwined.

The exciting thing about improving your decision-making skills is its influence on luck.

Luck is just probability—uncertainty playing out. Good or bad is our interpretation as to the impact of the outcome.

A reliable decision-making process that you apply to ALL decisions and improve over time results in all facets of your life improving.

Not because you always make good decisions, but because you have a process that you can improve and learn from. Just like Andre Agassi, you can study the past to find something to leverage in the future.

Try it this week, even on a small decision. Complete a decision journal page on a choice you need to make. The act of doing this will rewire your brain to think this way in all your decision assessments.

Next, set an appointment on your calendar in the future to review the results. Act as if you are a master of decision-making and analysis, and eventually, you’ll become one.

The system reduces terrible outcomes in the future and reduces your chances of deciding in a triggered emotional state of fear.

You’re not luckier learning how to avoid higher probabilities of poor outcomes and improve the chances of the outcomes you seek.

Oh, I guess that makes you luckier in the eyes of others…

Here is another critical point. By analyzing outcomes, you may see where the best choice results in near-term pain that you fear but leads to a long-term benefit.

Without an objective view of all the decision paths, you may miss out on a place where you should zig rather than zag.

Developing a decision-making process is one thing that, before this article series, you might not know was an issue. You were focused on fixing your drive rather than your short game.

Can you see how having a method for deciding is a competitive advantage?

Work to make your decision-making process like grandma’s golf game. Not looking to be flashy or too reliant on talent, but one that was reliable and repeatable.

Annie was a superb poker player because she had a system for betting and deciding based on probabilities and a lack of information. Having the system wasn’t a luxury—it was a necessity to compete at that level of poker playing.

To compete at the top of the winner take all market of publishing, you’ll need to have honed your skills in a similar way.

It sounds a lot like running a business—a lot like life.

My constant talk about focusing on your working capital and growth rate is because this is an area where you can tip the odds heavily in your favor.

If you can avoid what kills one in five businesses in the first year, then you are tipping the odds in your favor by eighty percent—you’re taking the banker’s offer.

What you focus on and improve becomes that slow and steady part of the business.

How much time do you put into producing books regularly, improving craft, and developing audience (short game) versus hanging out on social media or learning to advertise (the big drive)?

Is part of your short game practicing the art of decision-making?

Read: Reduce Risk With This Simple Mental Model