Work Based On Probability, Not Luck Nor Fate

In this world, almost nothing is 100% guaranteed. There are cases of people who live healthily yet die young, of students who studied hard yet a sickness during the examinations prevented them from getting good grades, of hard workers getting retrenched, and the list goes on. On the other hand there are people who struck the lottery not once but twice, people who got promoted simply because there was a vacancy and that average guy just somehow to be there, of people who simply just got born into a world of wealth and luxury, and this time the list also goes on.

Some attributed the above to bad or good luck, others classify it as fate or destiny. Granted, there are some who seemingly have been blessed with good luck, and others cursed with misfortune. I have seen both kinds of people, and personally feel that I belong to the group that has been struck with bad luck the day I was born. That being said, me being born in a peaceful society with access to food and education is already a very fortunate thing. I would say I am blessed with the bigger things and down with luck on all the smaller things in life.

But despite these cases of hard work and being a good person not being rewarded, of pure laziness meeting ridiculous good luck and of ill-preparation somehow meeting all requirements, why do people still work towards their goals and not give up or resign to fate immediately? Because while nothing in this world is 100% guaranteed, certain actions bring about certain consequences with a high probability. If I study hard, the probability of me passing the exam with good grades is higher. If I drive recklessly, the probability of me ending up dead or in the hospital is significant. In everything we do, consciously or sub-consciously, we are trying to increase the probability of us succeeding.

While I definitely agree that pure luck sometimes play a part, I do not agree with the saying that “Luck is also a skill”. No, it is not. Luck is luck. Nothing more. It may be a determining factor with significant impact at times (eg striking lottery), but it definitely is not a skill. To reduce the luck factor in our lives, we operate on the basis of probability.

As we go about doing our daily routine, as we set out to achieve our goals, we can consciously work using probability as a point of reference. Even casinos operate based on probability, where every game slightly favours the banker (the casino), but in the long term the odds stack up against the players (the customers). Granted, there are always that few who won a windfall from these gambling dens, but when panned out in the long run across all people, the casino is still the biggest winner. It is not luck nor fate. It is simply probability.

Let us digress and give a certain example to illustrate my point. There will be some mathematics involved but I will try to keep it simple.
Assuming the casinos rigged a particular game in such a way that the banker and player has 55% and 45% chance of winning respectively, just playing one game may seem not to be a big deal. The chance is just about 50-50, with only a slight favour towards the banker. Something acceptable to most players. But if we calculate it out we will get this:

Player’s expected value per game = (-55/100 x 1) + (45/100 x 1) = -10%
This calculation makes sense because although the banker’s 55% winning probability is indeed 10% more than the player’s 45% probability. But many would have thought the banker only has a 5% edge.

Now let us take this step further:
Assuming player bets $1 for each game, over the long run we will have this:
Play 1 game: Lose $0.10
Play 2 games: Lose $0.20
Play 5 games: Lose $0.50
Play 10 games: Lose $1.

To put it in reality using the example above, assuming now I have $1000 to gamble in the casino. I bet only $100 each game. By the end of 10 games I would have lost 100% of my betting amount, which is $100. According to statistics, by the 10th game, I would have lost $100, leaving me with only $900 and the casino $100 richer. The casinos do not operate based on luck. Every game is rigged in such a way that the house has some slighted edge in probability which the players could accept and treat as insignificant. But over the long run, the casinos know that they will win. Simply because probability is on their side.

As mentioned above, in our daily lives, sub-consciously or consciously, we make every effort to improve the probability of our success, by working hard and eating healthy. But for every important and minor decisions we make, we can consciously put every effort to make probability stand on our side, not just for the common things like studying. In essence we call this act “strategy”. People use it in war, in business, in politics, in negotiations, in everything where the stakes range from the low to the very high.

When I was going for the interview of my current job, I know little about the organisation. I know little about their hiring criteria. I know little about the number of vacancies they have. What I did was go to Glassdoor and read up reviews about the organisation. I went to the forums and find out from people who went for past interviews to find out what kind of questions they asked. I went to the organisation’s website to read up about their mission and vision (even though all these is crap). What I was doing was getting prepared. Being prepared and knowing what to expect gave me the confidence to face the interview, it gave me the ability to answer well and perhaps much better than all my competitors and above all, all these raised the probability of me getting the job. Of course, doing all these did not mean that it will be a 100% success, but raising every bit of probability helped. I got the job in the end.

Commoners like us do not generally go to war or get involved in politics (the furthest we got involved probably is just office politics, which I hate), nor do we do big business or go to high stakes negotiations. But we can scale it down to apply to our daily lives. From studies to making investment decisions, from doing a small business to living a healthy life, from raising decent children to getting a higher chance of winning a video game, if you work based on raising the probability of getting the outcome you want, even though you may not achieve your objective every single time, you will find that you have a far greater success compared to when you leave everything to chance.

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