Are You Superstitious In Business?

November 10, 2014

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Recently, I was somehow sucked into Nik Wallenda walking across the Chicago River on a tightrope. On reading up on his game day activities, I was fascinated that he wasn’t superstitious:

Even though Wallenda likens his “game day” to that of an athlete’s, he shares none of their superstitions.

“It really comes down to my faith and really training. It’s all about meditating and preparing properly mentally for what I do,” he says. “Believe it or not at this point in my career because I’ve walked the wire so long, it’s more mental than physical; and I have to keep control of my thoughts and my mind even leading up to the event.”

I’m probably more superstitious in work than I am at home.


I’m a consultant so much of my superstitions are around big meetings and winning projects.

Before any big meeting, I have a set of clothes that I’ll put on that day to make sure the meeting goes well. Has every meeting always gone well? Not exactly. But I’ve never had a bad meeting in my lucky outfit. I’ve been through meetings with Boards, CFOs, CIOs, and beyond. I even have plans for replacing items when they wear out.

I also don’t count anything until the ink is dry. This goes back 10 years ago when a major auto manufacturer called and said we had won a major project. E-mails went out announcing the win. Colleagues were setting up happy hours. A week later, our legal team hits a snag on some contract language and we’re forced to walk away. (We ended up spending a year fixing the contract language and winning the project again.)

Since then, I’ve never announced a win until it was signed. Even if I company says, “we’d like you to do this work,” I often don’t consider it a win until the documents are signed. I won’t change the pulldown in Salesforce until it is completely closed. That itself is probably not unusual in sales and consulting. But! It’s the early announcements or the early change in status that I often think jinxes it.

The Road to Success?

In checking to see if work superstitions were common, I came across an interesting research paper: Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance. It says:

Superstitions are typically seen as inconsequential creations of irrational minds. Nevertheless, many people rely on superstitious thoughts and practices in their daily routines in order to gain good luck… The present research closes this gap by demonstrating performance benefits of superstitions and identifying their underlying psychological mechanisms… Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance.

In some respects, I believe in the research. Wearing a lucky charm (in my case a special outfit) boosts my confidence and therefore I perform better at the meeting.

Where my superstition becomes irrational is the idea that wearing the special outfit or not moving the pulldown will affect the outcome.

No matter, I will continue to do what works.