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‘Lucky’ versus ‘good’

  • Published
  • By Col. Rob Vercher
  • 90th Operations Group commander
Missileers have a long tradition of giving a speech to their peers on the occasion of pulling their last nuclear alert. This is similar in some ways to a "fini-flight" in a flying squadron without getting hosed down on a flight line, and with the speaker providing good food to the gathering. I've heard many of these -- some good, some bad and for sure some very excellent ones.

Recently, I heard one of the best last alert speeches given by Capt. Jon Elsner, 90th Operations Group senior standards and evaluations commander. It was so good, I asked him to put it down on paper so that his leadership message could be shared with others. As good stewards of nuclear surety, I offer his last alert thoughts for your consideration.

"How much do you rely on luck for mission success? Luck, according to Merriam-Webster, can be defined as 'a force that brings good fortune or adversity' or 'the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual.' Merriam-Webster's second definition of luck is 'favoring chance.' Too often, we focus on the second definition and forget that luck comes in two forms: bad luck and good luck. Popular phrases such as 'wish me luck' or 'beginner's luck' don't consider the adverse aspect, as they imply good luck. But bad luck is just as likely.

"Lefty Gomez, a pitcher for the New York Yankees in the 1930s, was often quoted as saying 'I'd rather be lucky than good.' His credo also ignored the bad form of luck. Therefore, Gomez's credo, with regards to work, will most likely lead to mission failure at some point, because we can't always count on good luck. Due to its unpredictable nature, if we rely solely on luck for mission accomplishment, we could achieve good results, bad results or some combination of both. Hence, continued mission success would require good luck to always outweigh any bad luck. A better credo for attaining mission success would be a modification of Gomez's quote: 'I'd rather be lucky and good.'

"Being good at something means being skillful, proficient, knowledgeable and competent. In terms of mission outcome, 'good' is the factor which amplifies the effects of good luck and reduces the effects of bad luck. Additionally, how good we are at doing our jobs is the only factor we can directly control to improve the likelihood of mission success. We can't control chance and the unpredictable positive or negative impacts of luck. It makes sense then that we focus our energy on being good at a task so we don't rely solely on good luck for mission success.

"How do we get good, then? We get good at our jobs by focusing on developing professional qualities and abilities that will help us master our craft. There are six critical tasks which help us get better at our jobs: seeking leadership opportunities, maintaining a positive attitude, increasing knowledge, increasing proficiency, caring and working hard. Each of these actions will uniquely strengthen our chances of success and decrease our reliance on pure luck.

"Seek out leadership opportunities. Volunteer for major group and wing projects, especially those projects that involve the technical aspects of your job and can make you a more robust Airman. The high visibility and implications of such projects will force you to become a technical expert in the project focus area. For instance, taking the lead for a Simulated Electronic Launch - Minuteman or code change can give you a better understanding of the ICBM weapon system and forces you to become an expert in particular mission areas.

"Always strive to maintain a positive attitude. A positive attitude will allow you to tackle difficult tasks and be more receptive to learning situations. Being negative is detrimental to mission accomplishment and will adversely affect your ability to learn.

"Increase your knowledge. Continuously strive to increase your knowledge base by studying your technical orders, career development courses and other job related regulations. Supplement your book study by asking questions, particularly about aspects of your job in which you're unsure and gather insight from more experienced coworkers.

"Focus on job proficiency. Seek out opportunities where you can hone your job skills. Participate in competitions such as Global Strike Challenge or Crow Creek Challenge where you can refine, develop and demonstrate your skills and abilities. Participation in these activities will not only make you more proficient at your job, but will also make you more knowledgeable.

"Care about your job and your coworkers. If you care about your job, you will ensure it is done right. This requires you to be good at your job. Additionally, if you care about your coworkers, you will do all you can to help them and foster their success. This requires you to be proficient and knowledgeable enough about your work to know how you can accomplish this task.

"Always work hard at your job. Working hard requires you to spend more time doing your work. Spending more time actually doing your work will make you better at your job.

"Luck is unpredictable and unreliable. Furthermore, bad luck and good luck are just as likely to occur. Therefore, relying solely on good luck for mission success is risky and may allow bad luck to persist which, consequently, leads to disaster. However, there is a mitigation technique: never stop getting better at your job. Being good will amplify the effects of any good luck and reduce the effects of any bad luck. So, focus on improving your leadership, attitude, knowledge, proficiency, caring and work ethic to ensure mission success. Be lucky and good."