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Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lips service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

 

 

Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lip service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

2 thoughts on “Machiavelli in the Office-Part VII: Lady Luck

  1. this post brings back many thoughts that I have had in the back of my mind, especially the problem of “moral luck” — the idea that we only get punished when we are unlucky, but often we do bad things but, as luck would have it, we don’t get caught or nothing bad happens.

    Like

    1. That is an excellent point. I have a suspicion that our bad deeds rarely go unpunished. It is possible either the consequences are too abstract or far downstream for us to connect the dots. Then again I am speculating.

      Liked by 1 person

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