I've recently been trying to improve my skill at the Texas Hold 'Em variant of poker. For the uninitiated or those who still believe poker is mostly a game of luck (players of the Facebook variety), consider that the Final Table at the World Series of Poker is constituted of mostly the same group of people each year.
This argument had me convinced that skill was extremely relevant, but I still couldn't explain how. Also, I was playing casually and relying largely on making a great hand through improbable luck, which meant I mostly lost and even when I won, it didn't have the satisfaction of a job well done.
As I started reading up on poker strategies, the following argument struck a very strong chord with me:
Even if you're playing right all the time, you'll still lose a few hands because the other player got lucky with the cards that hit the board, but over time, that luck part will average out and skill will stand.
When I read this, it got me thinking how apt this is for anything we do in life. Sometimes, you might do everything right and still fail. At other times, you might be rewarded even when you know in your heart (or mind) that you screwed up and succeeded purely by accident (or luck). In either situation, it's easy to rationalize that we must change our strategy, our outlook (give-up because it's no use anyway, or reduce effort because you're getting results anyway), but that luck factor will eventually average out.
I can think of multiple analogies to this line of thinking. Different settings have different ways of communicating or interpreting it, but in all cases it seems to hold, whether it is the rationale for making solid long term investments rather than opportunistic short term ones or for a business to stay true to it's vision and not get overly tactical for short term returns.
What is important is to constantly, consistently, do the right thing. Yes there will be screw ups, you'll make mistakes. To fail in the short term is acceptable, if you know that your strategy is right or that you did the right thing. If it wasn't, the failure must contribute to learning and correction in your strategy.
Finally, it got me thinking of the first form I heard this message in, in the Bhagavad Gita and although that message is far more generic and deeper in meaning, it seems so much simpler when I think of it in the context of 'luck averaging out over the long term':