Symposium Preview
Q&A with Karla Star Title

Luck seems intangible, one of the few parts of life that we have no control over.

That’s why people think of gambling and sports when they think of luck in the random aspects of those endeavors: it’s only in those situations where we can clearly see which elements are beyond our control. In real life, we have no idea how much our actions will influence the outcomes, so it’s adaptive to assume that we can control a lot more than we realize. This motivates us to focus on our part and improve what we bring to the table, which can only help the ultimate outcome.

Karla Starr
Symposium Preview
Q&A with Karla Star Title

Luck seems intangible, one of the few parts of life that we have no control over.

That’s why people think of gambling and sports when they think of luck in the random aspects of those endeavors: it’s only in those situations where we can clearly see which elements are beyond our control. In real life, we have no idea how much our actions will influence the outcomes, so it’s adaptive to assume that we can control a lot more than we realize. This motivates us to focus on our part and improve what we bring to the table, which can only help the ultimate outcome.

You help organizations foster “lucky traits” in their employees and business practices. What have you found most surprising when dealing with executives?

Our need for certainty makes everything seem inevitable in hindsight, but the real world is so complex that it’s impossible to know each factor influencing a situation. Innovative, thriving organizations manage to incorporate experimentation into the company DNA, and encourage it at all levels.

Knowing this is one thing, but actually putting it into practice is another. A lot of executives admit that they appreciate open-mindedness and flexibility. There’s a key term in psychology that’s really interesting here: the bias blind spot. Quite simply, we don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t see our own biases.

Executives might be willing to be flexible about which orientation information to give new recruits, or which incentives to offer to midlevel employees. But it’s hard to take that extra step: Would an orientation guide be better than a shadowing program? Do we need incentives?

In your book you write about nailing first impressions. How might an introvert nail a first impression?

The same way as anyone else! People who identify as introverts tend to get anxious or easily overwhelmed in social situations. They might feel awkward because they don’t have as much experience wooing others or lack charisma. In other words, the bulk of their attention is focused inward, which is a recipe for an uncomfortable social situation.

This is exactly what happens when athletes choke: they overthink simple behaviors, without realizing that thinking about not messing up is precisely what makes you mess up. The fix is the same, whether you want to sink a free throw or nail a first impression: Turn your attention outward at the target. Great first impressions require us to simply focus on the other person. My favorite suggestion is to pretend like the person you’re meeting is attractive and fascinating, and then make it your job to find out how. Think about how you’d act toward someone you found attractive who showed some interest. We’re automatically drawn to warm, expressive behaviors that show genuine engagement. Don’t be self-conscious. Focus on making the other person smile — think about giving them reasons to not be self-conscious.

Karla Starr's Keynote

You also talk about cultivating confidence. How do you differentiate between confidence and competence?

Confidence is the result of competence. When we’re competent and can demonstrate the ability to do something well, people evaluate us highly. Being concerned with other people’s opinions of us isn’t vanity, it’s necessary for survival; humans are social creatures who need other people to live. Those positive evaluations stick with us and make us stand up a little straighter and more assured of our place in a group.

When we’re unsure of what to do in a group, we take cues from people who look like they know what they’re doing: they’re not asking, they’re just doing. They’re behaving confidently, and they look like leaders.

On the flipside, think if you had to attend an intro class for something you know very well, like using a laptop. If the teacher asked everyone to type an email on their laptop, you’d start immediately. People would look to you for tips and clues because you obviously know what you’re doing. In their eyes, you’re behaving confidently. If asked why you were opening up your laptop, you’d answer confidently. You’d be confident because you know that you would be rated highly by others. Knowing that we’re going to be rated highly by others is like extra octane in our tank — it’s what helps us act with confidence. The trick is to internalize the feeling that everything is going to be okay; tell yourself: I got this.

There was an article published a few months ago in which you talked about some fictional characters who make their own luck (https://www.readitforward.com/authors/karla-starr-luck/). Can you share a few of your favorites here?

One of my all-time favorites is Alice, from “Alice in Wonderland,” because her predicament is such a good metaphor for life in general.

She’s never told precisely where she is, why she’s there or what her real quest is, but she constantly makes the most of what she has.

She excels at capitalizing on life’s inherent randomness. She makes fast friends with the characters she encounters and is willing to take risks.

Sometimes, what seems like madness is actually quite normal. The people who can stay flexible and run with it are the ones who always land on their feet.

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