The Shot

You'll never believe this one surprising secret to success.

The Shot

I've been married three times. Trust me: the only thing more important than the right partner is the right photographer.

It turns out I'm more of a diva than Kanye West, whose wedding was shot by an unknown, Conor McDonnell - a 22 year-old from Liverpool he'd never met.

To be fair, Kanye wanted Annie Liebovitz. Unable to reach a deal, his friend Nabil moved fast to line up "someone in Europe" - a kid he'd met assisting at a shoot, had a chat and a drink with.

Those wedding photos went global. Now McDonnell shoots for a living.


Time and again I'm reminded how our understanding of success is miscalibrated.

We're conditioned by providential thinking to believe that good things are earned. The good deserve their grace, and those who failed just didn't try hard enough.

It pushes us to overwork, and irrational reasoning, as we study the moves of masters, trying to decode their recipes, pore over their tools, their tips, their morning routines. We're constantly falling victim to advice from those who've made it, who have no vested interest in telling us otherwise.

Is it a coincidence that young Elon Musk both worked all night, and came from a family that owned an emerald mine? Or that Jimmy Iovine, now a Beats billionaire, was a talented sound engineer who also happened to pick up the phone the one Easter Sunday that John Lennon wanted to record?


I'm under no illusions: meritocracy is a beautiful idea, it just doesn't scale. So if you play by society's rules, you'll probably end up disappointed.

Status, talent, luck, friends: all play critical roles in our success.

So these days, I think about winning much in the way Annie Duke thinks about bets: it's all about odds.

If I work hard, I can be uncommonly good - at least, better than the next chump - but might still be beaten by someone blessed with nepotism or dumb luck.

I could chase status, if I'm not born with it. After all, Victoria Beckham started rich, grew acclaim through music, and used it to pivot into fashion. So did Kanye, who nearing the height of his fame bagged a $500 internship at Fendi to learn the trade.

And I know we had early success with our start-up in no small part because people liked us. My friends keep me going - emotionally, sure, but also by getting me into rooms I don't always deserve to be in.

Status, talent, luck, friends - all brew opportunities, and all enhance our ability to exploit one when it presents.


I was reflecting on this with someone at the top of their game in business, but who still dreams of success for his band. Somehow, he talked their way into a huge gig. Overnight, they went from playing in bars to a performance in front of thousands.

Standing on stage, he realised: the real gap between them and the giants was tiny.

What mattered most was getting the chance.

The shot.




image: Conor McDonnell