Chance favors the prepared: How changing 1 digit created a viral story

August 14, 2023

In an era when bombast and insults seem to reign, one “boring” U.S. governor received international media attention with the flick of a pen and the savvy to know when opportunity was knocking.

“Boring” is not our word. That’s how Wisconsin governor Tony Evers characterized his own re-election campaign. But media outlets across the country, and across the Atlantic Ocean, didn’t think it was boring when Evers used his expansive veto power to change one digit in a huge education spending bill…and lock in billions of dollars in funding for the next four hundred years.

It’s easy to claim that Evers got “lucky” because he happens to have a specific prerogative as governor. But what he really did was use the tools available to him – the governor’s bully pulpit, his executive authority, a contentious legislative session, and a national political debate over the future of education – to their maximum capacity when chance arrived.

Outside observers often believe that big moments in someone’s life are lucky. That’s because they don’t know the hard work people put in for months, years, or even decades to prepare themselves for the big chance – one they may not know is coming, but which is often the catapult to even more chances to create further success.

Here are some other people and brands that got “lucky” by putting themselves in the right position to notice, and capitalize on, chances that came their way.

Nike’s hanging Swoosh

Every year, Nike spends hundreds of millions of dollars sponsoring Tiger Woods and a handful of his competitors. It does so to be associated with the game’s best competitors on the way to driving (no pun intended) sales of its golf balls and apparel.

Nike wasn’t always a top golf product company. In 2005, its nine-year, $140 million investment in Tiger appeared to be a flop. The company was making only modest gains in the golf ball market against the established industry giants, and Tiger hadn’t won a Major in two years.

Then came, to quote The Associated Press, The Shot.

Let’s time-travel back to April 2005. Tiger Woods was in the middle of a sudden-death overtime against Chris DiMarco at the Masters, one of golf’s biggest tournaments. With the golf world and beyond watching, he achieved one of the most iconic moments in golf history: a chip shot that taunted the audience by rolling the ball as slowly as possible to the edge of the cup. The camera zoomed in as the ball hung for a moment…and then dropped in. And millions of people saw the Nike Swoosh up close and personal.

The victory was huge for Tiger, who donned the green jacket for the fourth time and was suddenly back on top of the golf world. It was even better for Nike – two seconds of zoomed-in video led to an estimated $900,000 in advertising value in just days. Major outlets covered just the Swoosh itself in the days after Tiger’s shot, and the Swoosh is mentioned or appears in every YouTube video and most media outlets that relive the shot. And, of course, Nike used the shot for at least two ads.

Nike couldn’t have predicted that a camera would zoom in on the Swoosh during one of the most famous golf shots in history, or that such the ball used in the shot was the first of a new, high-end brand the company was about to launch. What it could, and did, do was make sure that its logo was where it needed to be for nine years – and capitalize when chance arrived.

Miss Nigeria banks on a loss

In 2019, Tori Ann-Singh won the Miss World competition. The title comes with grandeur, prize money and a salary, and a crown worth more than a million dollars. And yet millions of people couldn’t keep their eyes or their cameras off the runner-up.

That was Miss Nigeria, Nyekachi Douglas, who was perhaps even more excited for Ann-Singh than the winner herself. While most people would have been crushed at being the first loser, Douglas won the world’s heart because of her genuine joy. She garnered coverage on Good Morning America and Inside Edition, and millions of people saw her reaction in the days to come.

Like the Wisconsin governor and the sports mega-corporation, Douglas wasn’t lucky to receive 15 minutes of fame. Rather, she put in the hard work that earned her a slot on the Miss World finalist stage. And it was a lifetime’s cultivation of magnanimity and selfless goodwill that set her up to become a star in her own country and an enduring image for the rest of the world.

Stirring the pot

Last year, 100 million pairs of eyeballs watched Tony Piloseno mix paint. It’s not just his passion; it’s also how his company makes money – first, by people buying paint, second, by sponsors purchasing logo space on his videos, and third, through streaming.

Most people think watching paint dry is boring. Apparently, though, watching paint get mixed is wicked cool.

It wasn’t all pretty colors. Piloseno was mixing paint for a much smaller audience on Tiktok when Sherwin-Williams fired him in 2020 for suggesting creative marketing ideas. He shared the firing with his audience – and within two weeks, he had become a national media star, with job offers from the country’s largest paint manufacturers.

People go viral all the time and then flame out. What Piloseno did was take that virality and transform it into a growing brand. His target audience of Millennial women is the source of most of his paint sales, and they are the audience that sponsors like T-Mobile, the Orlando Magic, and YouTube want to reach. His continued success has landed him in outlets like CNBC and Insider, and in 2022, the company that had fired him finally launched its own TikTok channel.

Piloseno may have gotten “lucky” that he got fired. But it came on the back of a unique market offering and a social media entrepreneur’s creativity. The firing wasn’t luck – it was Piloseno’s chance. And he took it.

Don’t be lucky – be ready for chance

Luck is fickle. It can favor you today and throw you under the bus tomorrow. Chance favors the prepared – those who set themselves up to capitalize when chance arrives, and use today’s chance to prepare for the next opportunity.

Evers prepared to make a bizarre veto by understanding the politics of the moment and by spending decades in public education. Nike spent $140 million to be ready for The Shot. Miss Nigeria’s genuine personality was her launching pad to winning the world’s heart, and Piloseno was the first person to turn on-camera paint-mixing into a thriving business.

They didn’t get lucky. They prepared for chance. And when it arrived, they didn’t let it go.

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