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ALEX BEAM

How lucky do you feel?

istockphoto/photo illustration/globe staff

A few years ago, I was told that if a Chinese man lost big at a casino, his spouse wouldn’t berate her partner for squandering the family nest egg. Instead, she attributed the loss to poor “luck management.” Perhaps the gambler inadvertently chose table number four — a particularly unlucky number for many Chinese.

Four is associated with death; eight with wealth. In August 2003 — after a hijacking in January — Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines paid $280,000 for the super-lucky telephone number 8888.8888. Sichuan has experienced zero safety incidents since then, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

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That’s what I call luck management!

So how does the Bourgeois White Man, i.e. me, manage luck? In part, I try to organize the world around me into a landscape of familiar patterns: Same 2003 car, same elementary-school haircut, same kludgy computer, same wife, same children. Same newspaper, for that matter.

Of course I begin every month, year, decade, and millennium by reciting the words “Rabbit, Rabbit,” a British superstition of unknown origin. I never throw a hat on a bed, and I never shake hands across a threshold — mere superstitions, I agree.

I try not to expect too much from luck. That’s why I generally try to read only one book by authors I love; I don’t want to spoil the run. If bad luck strikes — a flat tire, a touch of the norovirus, an unavoidable wedding — I just go back to bed and re-boot. There is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Transcending my petty cares, it turns out that “luck management” is a serious discipline. In a Harvard Business Review article, “You Can Manage Luck,” University of California professor Morton Hansen and bestselling author Jim Collins (“Good to Great”) purport to calculate a “return on luck” that in some cases can transform an average company into a spectacular success.

They cite Microsoft founder Bill Gates as someone who created “a huge return on his luck,” partly due to his penchant for hard work, and partly because of his fortunate access to gold-plated education at Seattle’s Lakeside School and at Harvard.

“When we look at the [super high achievers],” Hansen and Collins write, “we see people like Mr. Gates who recognize luck and seize it, leaders who grab luck events and make much more of them.”

I’m reminded of the old adage: The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.

Charles Ergen, chairman of Colorado-based satellite TV provider Dish Network also believes in luck management. Ergen told The Wall Street Journal that he keeps several bottles of feng shui water in his office, and “says he has ‘feng shui-ed’ — with rituals for luck — all his satellite launches since Dish first sent a satellite into the sky in 1996 on a Chinese rocket that was charmed by auspicious Chinese water and chants.”

How has this worked out for Mr. Ergen? He’s a very rich man, and his company’s stock has risen steadily. On the other hand, the Hollywood Reporter has called him “the most hated man in Hollywood,” probably because Dish’s ad-skipping Hopper technology has alienated the major TV networks.

Simultaneously, the website 24/7 Wall Street branded Dish “America’s worst company to work for” because staffers are expected to share hotel rooms on the road, take red-eye flights, and so on. “Working at Dish Network or [notorious Chinese sweatshop] Foxconn: What’s Worse?” Bloomberg BusinessWeek asked last year.

Oh well, maybe Mr. Ergen is just having a run of bad luck with the media. Time to ratchet up the feng shui, and maybe invest in a new license plate: 888-8888. That should turn things around.

Globe contributor Alex Beam is the author of “American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.”
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