Do the Odds of Success Really Matter?

Star Wars The Empire Strikes BackBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I have a creative’s heart and a scientist’s mind. I like facts and formulas. I like logic. I like percentages and statistics.

I don’t like when the odds aren’t in my favor on something I really want. Because I have a strong rational side, odds that aren’t in my favor make me want to move on to something with a better chance of success.

I’ve been feeling that way lately listening to the talk about the publishing world. Traditionally, odds of success as a writer were terrible. According to the BEA’s industry analysis, as late as 2004 writers had a 93% failure rate. Most books published sold less than 1,000 copies, and authors were always told not to quit their day jobs because they wouldn’t be able to make a full-time living from their work.

Then the self-publishing boom hit, and for a little while, it seemed like things were changing. We fed our dreams on stories of people like Amanda Hocking and, more recently, Hugh Howey. We started to hear about writers who couldn’t have made a living in traditional publishing now bringing in full-time income as self-published authors.  

But how many? Behind the scenes, there were also a lot of writers who were frustrated and discouraged because they weren’t making a full-time living, especially now that the early gold rush season is past. In fact, a survey in 2011 of self-published authors found that the average amount earned was $10,000. Half of the authors surveyed made less than $500/year. That’s okay as a bonus but certainly not enough to live on.

So we have to ask ourselves if we’re going to listen to the odds, or if we’re going to be like a Corellian and flip the odds the bird.

In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Corellian Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the droid C-3PO are being chased by Empire ships intent on destroying them. Han decides to head into an asteroid field because the Empire ships won’t be able to follow them (at least not as easily).

“Sir,” C-3PO says, “the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to one.”

Han doesn’t even ease up on his speed. “Never tell me the odds!”

C-3PO telling Han the odds and Han ignoring them becomes a running joke in the movie, but it’s based in the idea that in the Star Wars universe, people from Han’s home world of Corellia don’t care about the odds.  

My husband, one of the biggest Star Wars fans I know, couldn’t tell me why Corellians ignore the odds, so I went digging to learn more about Corellians and see if I could solve the puzzle.

What I discovered was Corellians don’t just ignore the odds because they’re crazy or stupid. It’s not that the numbers don’t matter. (Because let’s face it, we’d be fool-hardy to completely ignore the numbers.)

So what makes Corellians feel like they can beat the odds? And what makes them succeed at beating the odds?

Corellians like a challenge.

If you’re the type of person who when someone says “you can’t,” replies with “watch me,” then you understand the love of a challenge. When Corellians look at a situation where they have a 10% chance of success, they hear that it’s not hopeless. As long as it’s not hopeless, they believe they’re the ones who’ll beat the odds, so they take a chance and try.  

Corellians trust their skills and abilities.

When Han Solo flew into the asteroid field, when he later made a direct attack on a Star Destroyer, he did it because he was an amazing pilot. He had years of practice. Corellians ignore and beat the odds because they know where their abilities lie, they’re prepared, and they know how to use their skills to the best of their advantage.

Corellians are extremely adaptable.

Corellians’ innovative natures are a large contributor to their disregard for the odds because they can adapt when it looks like the odds aren’t going to go in their favor and find a way to get around whatever the obstacle is.

When Han Solo made the direct attack on the Star Destroyer, he hid on top of the command tower so the Star Destroyer couldn’t detect them. The problem was they couldn’t move because as soon as they left their position, they’d be spotted. But Destroyers vent their waste before going to hyperspace. And that gave Han the opportunity to have their ship drift off with the waste.

What do you think? Should we let the odds discourage us? Or should we take a lesson from Corellians and find a way to beat them?

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