Luck I: Finding White Swans

by fowlertm11 min read12th Dec 201352 comments

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LuckRationalityPractical
Personal Blog

Quoth the Master, great in Wisdom, to the Novice: "Ye, carry with thee all thy days a cheque folded up in your wallet.  For there may be many situations in which thou shalt have need of it."

And the Novice, of high intelligence but lesser wisdom, replied, saying unto the Master: "Of what situations dost thou speak?"  

To which the Master replied: "imagine that thou dost come upon a nice piece of land, and wish to make a down payment on it. The real estate market moveth quickly in these troubled economic times, and you may soon find your opportunity dried up like dead leaves in summer.  What would you do?"  The Master, you see, did dabble in real estate development a little, and his knowledge was deep in these matters.  

The Novice thought for a moment, saying: "But always I carry with me a credit card.  Surely this is sufficient for my purposes."

And the Master replied: "Thou knoweth not the ways of commerce.  Thinketh thee that all dealings are conducted within feet of a machine that can read credit cards?!"

The Novice knew the ways of Traditional Rationality and Skepticism, and felt it his duty to take the opposite stance to the Master, lest he unthinkingly obey an authority figure.  Undeterred, he replied, saying unto the Master: "But always I carry with me cash. Surely this is sufficient for my purposes."

Upon hearing this, the Master did reply, incredulously: "Would thee carry with thee always an amount of cash equal to the reasonable asking price of a down payment for a piece of land?!"   

And lo, the Novice did understand, though he could not put it into these words, that the Master did speak of a certain stance with respect to the unknown.  The swirling chaos of reality may be impossible to predict, but there are things an aspiring empirimancer can do to make it more likely that ve will have good fortune.

Verily, know that that which people call 'luck' is not the smile of a beneficent god, but the outcome of how some people interact with chance.  

 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Consider for a moment two real people, whom we will call ''Martin" and "Brenda", that considers themselves lucky and unlucky, respectively. Both are part of the group of exceptionally lucky/unlucky people which psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman has assembled to try and scientifically study the phenomenon of luck.

(The following is taken from his book "The Luck Factor", and interested parties should go there for more information.) 

As part of the research, both people were placed in identical, fortuitous circumstances, but both handled the situation very differently. The setting: a small coffee shop, arranged so that there were four tables with a confederate (someone who knows about the experiment) sitting at each table. One of these confederates was a wealthy businessman, the kind of person that, should you happen to meet him in real life and make a good impression, could set you up with a well-paying job. All the confederates were told to act the same way for both Brenda and Martin. On the street right outside the coffee shop, the researchers placed a £5 note.  

Brenda and Martin were told to go to the coffee shop at different times, and their behavior was covertly filmed. Martin noticed the money sitting on the street and picked it up. When he went into the coffee shop he sat down next to the businessman and struck up a conversation, even offering to buy him a coffee.  Brenda walked past the money, never noticing it, and sat quietly in the shop without talking to anyone.

Fortune favors the...?

There are obvious differences in Brenda and Martin's behavior, but are they indicative of more far-reaching differences in how lucky and unlucky people live their lives? First, let's discuss what doesn't differentiate lucky from unlucky people. Wiseman, having assembled his initial group of subjects, tested them on two traits which could have an impact on luck: intelligence and psychic ability. Determining that intelligence wasn't a factor was as easy as administering an intelligence test. Psychic ability was ruled out by having both lucky and unlucky people pick lottery numbers, with the result being that neither group was more successful than the other.  

Wiseman further tested for differences in personality using the Five Factor Model of Personality, which you will recall breaks personality up into Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (the acronym OCEAN makes for easy recall) . Lucky and unlucky people showed no differences in Conscientiousness or Agreeableness, but did show differences in Openness, Extraversion, and Neuroticism.  It is here that an interesting picture began to emerge.  

Ultimately, Wiseman was able to break luck down into four overarching principles and twelve subprinciples, summarized here:

 

Principle One: Maximize the number of chance opportunities you have in life.

  sub-principle one: lucky people maintain a network of contacts with other people.

  sub-principle two: lucky people are more relaxed and less neurotic than unlucky people

  sub-principle three: lucky people have a strong drive towards novelty, and strive to introduce variety into their routines.

Principle Two: Use your intuition to make important decisions.

  sub-principle one: pay attention to your hunches.

  sub-principle two: try and make your intuition more accurate.

Principle Three: Expect good fortune.  

  sub-principle one: lucky people believe their lucky will continue.

  sub-principle two: lucky people attempt to achieve their goals and persist through difficulty.

  sub-principle three: lucky people think their interactions will be positive and successful.

Principle Four: Turn bad luck into good.

  sub-principle one: lucky people see the silver lining in bad situations.

  sub-principle two: lucky people believe that things will work out for them in the long run.

  sub-principle three: lucky people spend less time brooding over bad luck.

  sub-principle four: lucky people are more proactive in learning from their mistakes and preventing further bad luck.  

 

I suspect that LWers will have a unique set of reactions to and problems with each of these principles, so let's take them one at a time.  In this essay, I will examine the first two. 

Facing up to randomness 

First, how would you go about increasing the likelihood of positive chance encounters? Well, you could start spending more time talking to strangers and making friends with people.  Indeed, one of the important differences between unlucky and lucky people is that lucky people are more outgoing, more friendly and open in their body language (lucky people smiled and made eye contact far, far more often), and keep in touch with people they meet longer. The age-old adage 'it's not what you know, but who you know' has more than a grain of truth in it, and a great way to get to know the right people is by simply getting to know more people, period. The chances of any given person being the contact you need are pretty slim, but the odds improve with every person you get to know. 

This actually works on several levels. Since the complexity of the world greatly exceeds the cognitive abilities of any one person, cultivating a strong social network positions you to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of others. Even if you are so much smarter than person X that they can't compete with you along any dimension, they may still have information you don't, or they may know somebody who knows somebody who can help you out.

Moreover, I'm sure everyone is familiar with the experience of struggling with a problem, only to have a random conversation (with a stranger or a friend) shake loose a key insight. This can happen locally inside your own head when you have the necessary raw material laying around but haven't seen a certain connection. In this situation you would have eventually hit upon the insight but the process has been expedited.  More valuable still is when two or more people enter a conversation that produces an insight that nobody had the necessary components to produce for themselves; I think this is part of what Matt Ridley means when he talks about ideas having sex.     

So you're doing your best to meet more people and flex your extroversion muscles. Next, you might try and be more spontaneous and random in your life. Wiseman notes that many lucky people have a strong orientation towards variety and novel experiences.  Some of them, facing an important decision like which car to buy, will do something like list their options on a piece of paper and then roll a die. 

You don't need to go quite this far; it's also acceptable to shop different places, take different routes to work, or pick a new part of the city to explore every month. The takeaway here is that it's difficult to have positive chance encounters if you always do the same thing.

One of my favorite examples of someone positioning themselves to benefit from chance comes from HPMoR, when Harry and Hermione first read all the titles of the books in the library and then read all the tables of contents.  From their point of view the books in the library are a vast store of unknown information, any bit of which they might need at a given time. Since reading every single book isn't an option, familiarizing themselves with the information in a systematic way means creating many potential sources of insight while simultaneously reducing the cost of doing future research. Hacker Eric Raymond made related point in the context of winning table-top board games:

 

I made chance work for me. Pay attention, because I am about to reveal why there is a large class of games (notably pick-up-and-carry games like Empire Builder, network-building games like Power Grid, and more generally games with a large variety of paths to the win condition) at which I am extremely difficult to beat. The technique is replicable.

I have a rule: when in doubt, play to maximize the breadth of your option tree. Actually, you should often choose option-maximizing moves over moves with a slightly higher immediate payoff, especially early in the game and most especially if the effect of investing in options is cumulative.

 

What's the common thread between extroversion, skimming the library shelves, and beating your friends at boardgames? Certain actions and certain states of mind make it more likely you'll benefit from white swans.

(Clever readers may be saying to themselves: "okay, but doesn't all this also make the chances of encountering black swans higher as well?" We will address these concerns when we talk about principles three and four.)

Attitude matters 

We've covered extraversion and openness, but the lucky people Dr. Wiseman interviewed were also more relaxed and less neurotic than the unlucky ones. This has obvious consequences for when you are trying to meet new people, but research also hints that being less anxious may make you more likely to notice things you aren't specifically looking for. This is probably why several of Dr. Wiseman's lucky participants remarked on how often they found money on the street, found great opportunities while listening to the radio or reading the newspaper, and in general stumbled over opportunities in places where other people simply failed to notice them.  

This attitude undergirds and complements much of what I discussed in the previous section; while you are trying to maximize your pathways to victory, don't forget that constantly worrying and mentally spinning your tires will make you less likely to see a chance opportunity. 

Pump your intuition

Lucky people tend to have strong intuitions, and they have a habit of paying careful attention to them.  I'm sure you're skeptical of this advice, as I was when I first started reading this section. Given present company I don't think I need to reiterate all the billion ways intuition can be derailed and misleading. That said, placing intuition and rationality as orthogonal to one another is a good example of the straw vulcan of rationality. Intuitions are of course not always wrong, and in some cases may be the only source of information a person has to go off of.

Two things put a little nuance on the proposition that you should listen to your intuitions. The first is that, as far as I can tell, lucky people don't trust their intuitions immediately and absolutely. They don't stand at a busy intersection, blindfolded, and trust their gut to tell them when it's safe to cross. Rather, their hunches act more like yellow traffic lights, telling them that they should proceed with caution here or do a bit more research there. In other words, it sounds to me like lucky people treat their intuitions in a pretty rational manner, as data points, to be used but not relied upon in isolation unless there is just nothing else available. 

The other thing is that many lucky people take steps to sharpen their intuitions, utilizing quiet solitude or meditation. Dr. Wiseman goes into precious little detail about this, including just a few anecdotal descriptions of people's efforts to clear their mind. The rationalist community will be familiar with more quantitative methods like predictionbook, and googling for 'improving your intuitions' turned up about as much garbage as you'd probably expect.  If anyone has leads to legitimate research on improving intuition, I'd be happy to add an addendum. 

Suggested exercises

Throughout the book Dr. Wiseman includes exercises which are meant to help people utilize the principles uncovered in his research to become luckier. Here are the suggested exercises for the topics discussed in this post:

-To enhance your extraversion, strike up a conversation with four people you either don't know or don't know well. Do this each week for a month. Additionally, every week make contact with a person you haven't spoken to in a while.

-To relax, find a quiet place and picture yourself in a beautiful, calming scene. Make sure to visualize each and every detail of the location, including whatever sounds and smells are around you. When you've got the scene in place, visualize the tension leaving your body in the form of a liquid flowing out of you, starting with your head. once you feel sufficiently relaxed, slowly open your eyes.

-Inject some randomness in your life by making a list of 6 new experiences. These can be anything from trying a new type of food to taking a class on a subject you've always been interested in.  Number them 1 to 6, roll a die, and then do whatever corresponds to the number you rolled. 

This essay can also be found at Rulers To the Sky.

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52 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:01 AM
New Comment
[-][anonymous]8y 14

Thou knoweth...

Should be "knowest".

Thinketh thee that...

Should be "Thinkest thou".

Would thee carry...

Should be "Wouldst thou".

Also,

in your wallet

"in thy wallet"

and you may soon find your opportunity

"and thou mayst soon find thy opportunity"

What would you do

"What wouldst thou do"

And "Ye, ..." followed by a paragraph of stuff full of "thee" and "thou".

Thanks to everyone. I was winging it with the biblical phrasing, only because I thought it added a little style to the piece overall.

Congratulations - now you are less wrong about that ;)

We've covered extraversion and openness, but the lucky people Dr. Wiseman interviewed were also more relaxed and less neurotic than the unlucky ones. This has obvious consequences for when you are trying to meet new people, but research also hints that being less anxious may make you more likely to notice things you aren't specifically looking for. This is probably why several of Dr. Wiseman's lucky participants remarked on how often they found money on the street, found great opportunities while listening to the radio or reading the newspaper, and in general stumbled over opportunities in places where other people simply failed to notice them.

So, what is the actual process of decreasing your neuroticism? And is this process something that highly neurotic people can perform safely?

(Example: most drugs that reduce neuroticism tend to be illegal, and when a neurotic person performs an illegal act, they're more likely to get caught at it because they "act suspicious".)

(Also, random anecdote on luck: I typically notice dollar bills on the street; however, the last two times I picked up a dollar bill on the street, the following things happened:

Incident 1. Someone accused me of trying to steal it, since someone nearby must have obviously dropped it and how DARE I claim it for myself.

Incident 2: The dollar bill had been carefully laid on the ground, folded up, with diarrhea smeared inside the fold.

I'm STILL not sure what rational lesson to learn from these incidents.)

[-][anonymous]8y 9

So, what is the actual process of decreasing your neuroticism? And is this process something that highly neurotic people can perform safely?

As someone who definitely considers himself neurotic at times, I have found the following methods worked some for me:

1: Talking to a therapist, and taking their advice. For example someone I had talked to said If I was worrying about something in the middle of the night, write my worries about it down, (regardless of whether they were coherent or not) and then try to go back to sleep. I found this worked.

2: Ask your doctor for a prescription for LEGAL Anti-Anxiety Medications. I'm on 40 mg Citalopram This works some as well.

In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure which of these might be the stronger one. It probably varies some from person to person anyway.

There's also generally talking to supportive people like spouse, parent, etc, but not everyone has a supportive person to talk to.

Meditation seems to be moderately effective at reducing neuroticism. There is a meta-analysis here that summarizes a lot of relevant data on the effect of meditation on various categories, including neuroticism. They show a greater effect size for Transcendental Meditation vs. mindfulness and other forms of meditation.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Incident 2: The dollar bill had been carefully laid on the ground, folded up, with diarrhea smeared inside the fold.

Literally?

Literally?

...I'm not sure what kind of metaphor I'd be making, here. I am now genuinely curious what kinds of non-literal interpretations there are for "the dollar bill had been carefully laid on the ground, folded up, with diarrhea smeared inside the fold."

[-][anonymous]8y 4

I dunno, that just sounded so... ‘weird’ to me that I gave sizeable probability to ‘ialdabaoth means something else I can't think of’.

Guerrilla biological warfare, natch :-/

The most popular anti-anxiety drug (alcohol) is legal in most places.

If you don't like alcohol, there's another legal drug which doesn't have the same anti-anxiety effects, but in many places comes with a ready made social network. That drug is tobacco, in places where indoor smoking is banned. The ban helps strengthen the feeling of community. Many tobacco users claim this group membership is the main reason they smoke.

The risks of smoking tobacco probably exceed the social benefits. Nicotine itself, vaporized in an e-cigarette, is much safer. Long running propaganda campaigns have made people conflate tobacco with nicotine, so if you're seen as a nicotine user, and don't make any negative comments about tobacco smoking, you are likely to be accepted as part of the tobacco smokers group. Most smokers will assume you are an ex-smoker who switched. If you stand upwind smoke exposure will be minimal.

Even if you don't like nicotine this is a workable strategy. You can use 0 nicotine liquid and it will be indistinguishable to others unless they try it. If you're worried that somebody might want to try it and it would be awkward to refuse, it's still possible to minimize nicotine exposure. You can suck the vapor into your mouth rather than into the lungs, where it is absorbed rather slowly. You can blow it out before you've absorbed much. It's very difficult to see the difference between mouth and lung inhalation, so this won't look odd to tobacco smokers. The fact that you're wasting so much vapor will only make it look more impressive.

You can use an e-cigarrete with a detachable tip and carry spare tips to avoid risk of spreading disease when sharing. Carrying a lighter will also have social benefits as smokers often misplace them and sharing yours will help strengthen group membership.

The most popular anti-anxiety drug (alcohol) is legal in most places.

Caution - mild scientific evidence for anxiety increasing effects in the long run, moderate scientific evidence that the anxious are more susceptible to dependency for this substance, not to mention that alcohol + neuroticism has an anecdotal reputation as a failure mode.

It feels like the boring / obvious thing to say, but I think it's worth mentioning.

Failure mode: my mother smoked excessively when I was a child, which contributed to either a built-up sensitivity to nicotine, or a psychosomatic perception of the same. Either way, nicotine is non-viable.

Also, alcohol actually makes me MORE neurotic, not less, because I'm constantly reminding myself that I'm drunk, and therefore likely to do something dumb.

If the author could include a hyperlink to Richard Wiseman when he is first mentioned, it might prevent any reader from being confused and not realizing that you are describing actual research. (I was confused in this way for about half of the article).

Agreed, especially since the name Wiseman sounds like it could be symbolic.

Also, what book is being talked about here?

Throughout the book Dr. Wiseman includes exercises

Apologies, fixed.

group of exceptionally lucky/unlucky people which Dr. Richard Wiseman has assembled

Are these people who actually were very lucky or unlucky, or are these people who consider themselves to be very lucky or unlucky?

The subjects of the experiments were volunteers who considered themselves lucky, and Dr. Wiseman conducted tons of interviews and experiments with them. To be fair, a lot of the evidence he discusses in the book are anecdotes reported by the people themselves. Genuinely verifying whether or not someone is lucky would be pretty difficult, but it seems like Dr. Wiseman did some pretty extensive epistemic footwork.

The subjects of the experiments were volunteers who considered themselves lucky

Ah, so it's entirely about self-perception.

That makes the results unsurprising. Of course neurotics are going to consider themselves unlucky and naturally people who think themselves unlucky will be more risk-averse and so less enthusiastic about novel experiences.

That makes the results unsurprising.

The surprising result is that they managed to train people to be luckier (as mentioned here, I imagine if you can poke around you can find the actual research).

The surprising result is that they managed to train people to be luckier

I would be careful with terminology here.

It looks to me that they managed to train people to suck less at dealing with life. That's not at all the same thing as becoming luckier.

It looks to me that they managed to train people to suck less at dealing with life. That's not at all the same thing as becoming luckier.

Wiseman's central argument is that the two are the same- that is, the persistent personal characteristic that people identify as luck ("both Sam and I think I'm lucky, both Sam and I think he's unlucky") is a collection of trainable subskills. Or, to look at it another way, "luck is how your approach to the world looks from the inside."

Ah, well, so he redefined the word "lucky" for his particular purposes.

People might identify as luck a "persistent personal characteristic", but at the same time they identify as luck many other things as well.

The word -- in its persistent sense -- conventionally refers to some kind of vague acausal blessing looming over a person's life. Given that we can rule that out on reductionist grounds, why not repurpose it within this context to refer to the unconscious habits that contribute to generating the circumstances that people subjectively think of as lucky?

The outcomes are the same, after all.

The word -- in its persistent sense -- conventionally refers to some kind of vague acausal blessing looming over a person's life.

Well, not to me. Luck for me means a favorable outcome of something over which I had no control. Not that many people consider themselves persistently lucky or unlucky -- for most luck varies.

Given that we can rule that out on reductionist grounds

You can rule out what? Given random variables, in hindsight some people will have been lucky and some will have been unlucky.

to refer to the unconscious habits that contribute to generating the circumstances that individuals subjectively think of as lucky?

So which word will you use for winning the lottery, having your vacation end one day before the tsunami hit, or having been born a citizen of the sole remaining superpower?

I actually gave some thought to distinguishing between 'cosmic luck' - which would be what your describing - and 'local luck', but at the end of the day it didn't seem worth belaboring the point. Clearly, if a meteorite crashes through your car windshield and kills you, there just isn't much you can do about that. But given the vast uncertainty each of us faces, it seems reasonable to assume that there are better and worse ways of interacting with it. I would argue that Dr. Wiseman's work has gone part of the way toward verifying that this is the case. From what I can tell, the traits and habits characterizing both the lucky and unlucky groups were remarkably stable within-group. Seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

Let me suggest an experiment.

Replace all "lucky person" with "winner" and all "unlucky person" with "loser". As far as I can see, this is much closer to what is meant here. "Lucky" people don't get better random rolls, they just deal with life better -- and "unlucky" people suck at life, that's all.

So which word will you use for winning the lottery, having your vacation end one day before the tsunami hit, or having been born a citizen of the sole remaining superpower?

Serendipitous ;)

I often wonder whether the ability to seek out, improve, and employ subskill training is itself a trainable subskill - and whether it is or not, what's a good way to improve one's trainable subskills if one's ability to seek out, improve, and employ subskill training is compromised?

Ability to teach what you already know to people who are paying attention is certainly a trainable skill.

Ability to learn specific cases within a given field is almost certainly a trainable skill; with the common elements tucked away in long-term memory, there's more short-term memory available for whatever makes the specific case unusual.

Ability and willingness to pay attention is probably a trainable skill, with other limiting factors.

Fully-generalized ability to learn is... difficult to disentangle from general intelligence. The big gains so far in general intelligence seem to be either genetic, or a matter of removing penalties like malnutrition and lead poisoning. If we had a proven, generalized way to learn how to learn faster, iterating it would pretty much be the Singularity.

No. The results may be unsurprising - but only in hindsight. It is not neccessarily what you'd expect. The null hypothesis should be that both kind of people consider themselves lucky/unlucky but don't act neccessarily different. But they very clearly do. They clearly experience 'luck'.

And how and why exactly do is interesting.

The null hypothesis should be that both kind of people consider themselves lucky/unlucky but don't act neccessarily different.

I don't think that should be the null hypothesis. The issue is the direction of the causality arrow: I would argue that people with different mental characteristics both act differently and differ in whether they consider themselves lucky or unlucky. So when you select people by their self-perception of luck you immediately get a highly biased sample.

Okay, but it's not like he just let the people into the study, gave them a questionnaire, and called it a day. He performed a battery of interviews and experiments with them which showed a consistent set of traits and habits, even going as far as to tape them doing mundane tasks like waiting in a coffee shop (which I discussed). Yes, it could be the case that the extraversion, orientation toward novelty, etc. are mere artifacts and all the lucky people were just the beneficiaries of being in the thin part of the bell curve -- but then, Dr. Wiseman also trained 'unlucky' people in these and related skills and was able to get them to improve their self-reported luck.

He performed a battery of interviews and experiments with them which showed a consistent set of traits and habits

Correct, so he picked two sets and was quite selective about it. He picked people which acted differently from the very start.

Right off the bat, there are some very worrying issues. For instance, too much focus on psychological differences, but not enough focus on body language and physical appearance (which are known to be huge factors in how we are percieved by other people). These are all issues that self-selection bias produces.

And the part where these differences are used to suggest 'better' behaviors seems to be a surface analysis, without deeper consideration of problems.

For instance, it is suggested that unlucky people should go out and have more experiences. But perhaps it is simply the case that they have tried having new experiences and connecting with people but were overwhelmingly rejected, thus they learned to avoid new experiences. And as to why they were rejected, perhaps they did not know how to approach people or had some other fundamental issue.

For an extreme example of the latter, consider telling an african-american person to 'go out and talk to more people' in Indiana in 1922. This is an extreme example, but cultural/ethnic divisions still very much exist, even in people of the same race, and make it hard for a lot of people to connect and make attempts at connection seem contemptuous.

For instance, it is suggested that unlucky people should go out and have more experiences. But perhaps it is simply the case that they have tried having new experiences and connecting with people but were overwhelmingly rejected, thus they learned to avoid new experiences. And as to why they were rejected, perhaps they did not know how to approach people or had some other fundamental issue.

I cannot overemphasize this enough. This, this, a thousand times this. Telling someone to go out and have experiences is useless if they cannot understand how to bias their potential experiences towards positive.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

From the OP:

(Clever readers may be saying to themselves: "okay, but doesn't all this also make the chances of encountering black swans higher as well?" We will address these concerns when we talk about principles three and four.)

In that case, I eagerly await that post.

[-][anonymous]8y 6

First, how would you go about increasing the likelihood of positive chance encounters? Well, you could start spending more time talking to strangers and making friends with people.

But but but... Opportunity costs, anyone? I can only be friends with so many people, and a random stranger isn't particularly likely to be one of the people it'd be most worth it to be friends with. Wouldn't I be better off focusing on people I already know are awesome, and people I am introduced to?

Wouldn't I be better off focusing on people I already know are awesome, and people I am introduced to?

This assumes you are good at detecting awesomeness, and are the sort of person that gets introduced to people.

I would hazard to guess that many 'unlucky' people have neither. (In fact, I would hazard to guess that many 'unlucky' people simply don't have a good social network or a good way to establish one, and lucky people are already following your protocol, leading to a strong Matthew effect).

Good point, but it's only really a problem if you're investing even resources in all your friends. For the vast majority of my friends and family, I keep in touch with Facebook, which makes the opportunity cost of keeping everyone updated on my life (and vice versa) near zero. For a handful of people who are above-average awesome I make the extra effort of skyping or visiting them in person.

Clever readers may be saying to themselves: "okay, but doesn't all this also make the chances of encountering black swans higher as well?" We will address these concerns when we talk about principles three and four.

Did you address this later, or is that coming in part 2? Also, I'm not sure if I understand this concern. If I were just exposing myself to more variance, then yeah, I should be worried about increased bad luck as well as good, but maximizing options doesn't seem like the same thing as increasing variance. Though maybe that's what you were going to say. :)

Btw, the focus on option maximization, especially in the ESR quote, reminds me of Alex Wissner-Gross's Entropica, which you might also find interesting.

It'll be addressed in the next part. There are some philosophical issues which I'm still working through while writing that piece.

Thanks for the Entropica link, I'll check it out.

Could use an introductory section. Before I start considering Martin and Brenda, I want to know -- what is this about, where is it going? Of course the title and opening story tell me that it will be about luck, but I'd just appreciate an, "In this article..." sentence or two after the story.

Huh, I do many of these deliberately, and recognize them as having helped me greatly for much the same reasons, but I'd never call the skillset "luck" and in fact consider myself quite an unhappy person, as well as bitter/cynical. I rewrote a few sentences to how this is possible and deleted them again for being horrible, I'll sum it up as my relationship to this issue being quite complex and curious, and I having apparently found the most ironically un-lucky ways of being "lucky" there is.

That sound like you found a risk-aversive way of applying these rules. I don't generally think that expecting the worst is a bad strategy. But that doesn't preclude from making the best out of it.

Also, genuinely random health stuff has a lot to do with it. Prioritizing networking and changing routines does help relative to what it'd have been otherwise, but environmental constraints still keep the absolute effect below human average.