Do You Feel Lucky?

Last month at STC Summit, someone came by our booth and we got to talking about the TC Dojo. The TC Dojo is a webinar series we started 4 years ago. It works like this: First, we poll the community to find out what they want to learn. Then, we recruit experts to teach the topic, or an aspect of it, in a short webinar. We record the sessions and post the videos to YouTube. And we don’t charge for any of it.

This person asked me how we make money off it. I told her, “We don’t. This is part of our community service.” The puzzled look I got in response reminded me of an article in The Atlantic, “Why Luck Matters More Than You Might Think” that I had seen only one week earlier.

In the article, Robert Frank describes how generosity and public spirit is affected how much someone attributes luck to their own good fortune. It’s a phenomenon that social scientist researchers have been looking at, too:

a growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made—rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky—leads us to be less generous and public-spirited. It may even make the lucky less likely to support the conditions (such as high-quality public infrastructure and education) that made their own success possible.

Happily, though, when people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they become much more willing to contribute to the common good.

I’ve always considered myself to be very, very lucky. Yet, I’ve never won the Lottery. I never, ever, win door prizes. I’ve never won even the smallest prize in a sweepstakes or promotional game run by a giant corporation. (OK, maybe I won 1 free Coke in the history of that Coke cap game.) And although I live in Silicon Valley and have played the startup game many times, I haven’t struck it rich. And yet, I’ve always considered myself to be lucky.

It’s not surprising then, when you look at the sheer number of community projects and public-benefit programs I have started and support. I sit on the board of three non-profits, one of which I started. We started TC Camp, the only unconference for technical communicators. It’s a free event designed to improve the knowledge of everyone in the community.

My company has run three different public web series: TC Dojo, Arbortext Dojo, Arbortext Monster Garage. Single-Sourcing Solutions provides support for the Arbortext User Group and did all the work to get it going online. When another user changed professions and wanted to close down the Arbortext Code Archive he’d been maintaining, we took it over, migrated all the content, and expanded it to include public forums.

It’s part of who we are. We openly acknowledge our gratitude to everyone we’ve learned from (and there are many!) and we are constantly looking at how we can improve our communities.

If you’re interested in the psychology underneath it all, I’ll encourage you to read the whole article. I found it interesting. I know that my own perception colors the relationships I seek out. I tend to work best with people who are similarly oriented. Our customers come to us because they know we do everything we can think of to enable them. They come to us because they know our dedication to growing the body of knowledge provides a public benefit of everyone in our profession.

How about you? Do you consider yourself lucky? Is this a trait you seek out in the people you work with?

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Author: Liz Fraley

Liz Fraley has founded two companies, sits on the boards of three non-profits, and is constantly coming up with new ways to share knowledge in the technical communications and content industries. https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethfraley/

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