Being Lucky — A Keynote at the Agile Testing Days 2019

Update (July 2020): A PDF of the keynote “Being Lucky” is available too.

This year (2019) I went back to the Agile Testing Days, after a one year break. This post contains most of what I talked about in my keynote at the conference, as well as the reason for the break.

Some years ago, I chatted with another attendee after the conference and she noticed that I seem to be particularly lucky in life.
I didn’t think much about this at that moment and yet, I started to observe whether I am lucky or not.

A Definition

Let’s start with a definition of ‘luck’. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines ‘luck’ as

the force that causes things, especially good things,
to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Note, that the definition mentions chance. In other words: There is some kind of randomness involved. Also note, it states that we can’t affect luck.

What Luck is Not

I am interested in the kind of luck, I experience personally, at the place where I am, at the time when it happens.

What luck is not: Gambling, Happiness, Coincidence
I’m not talking about, for example, buying a lottery ticket. While winning in the lottery is nice, it’s not a personal experience. The winner is drawn at some other place and another time.
You can be lucky, but not happy — or happy but not lucky. An example of happiness is the feeling when getting a beautiful gift, you totally didn’t expect.
Events happening without being related by causation.

These are aspects that are related to luck, but are different.

A Story About a Car Crash

In early 2018, I went to a standard medical check-up. Everything was OK: The blood test results were not brilliant, but there was nothing to worry about.

A few weeks later I was on a business trip and took a taxi from the train station to the hotel. At a crossroads, another car crashed into the taxi, damaging the two cars significantly. The taxi driver and I were taken to hospital. It wasn’t too serious: The X-ray showed that two ribs were damaged, but not broken. One of my neck bones was slightly dislocated. Nothing pain killers, some physiotherapy and a good amount of rest couldn’t fix.

Not long after the accident, tiredness kicked in. I became less and less energetic. Getting out of a chair was demanding. So I went to see my doctor again. More blood samples were taken and the result was alarming: I was loosing blood! But where? More examinations followed. A colonoscopy brought the diagnosis. I suffered from colon cancer and it had to be treated as soon as possible.

Life came to a complete halt.

In hospital, a computer tomography showed that the tumour had strayed into the liver. So the therapy began: In two surgeries a good part of the liver and the affected part of the colon were removed. After a break to let the wounds heal, a chemo therapy followed, which lasted a bit more than half a year. I call this my personal debugging.

A surgeon told me that it’s very likely the tumour had been damaged in the car crash. This caused an internal bleeding which in turn caused the cancer to be diagnosed. I was extremely lucky, as it was diagnosed just in time to be treatable. As far as medicine & science can tell I am now (as of November 2019) cancer free! So, it’s very likely that the car crash save my life.

Tip № 1:
Good news can be hidden in bad news.
Tip № 2:
Listen to your body. Go to medical check-ups.
It can save your life, and your life is worth saving.

During the treatment, especially during the chemo therapy, I contemplated a lot about whether I am lucky or not. Four aspects are particularly important to me:

  • Persistence
  • Opportunity Cost
  • A Caring and Welcoming Community
  • Helping & Get Help

1. Persistence

This is relatively simple: If you want to be lucky in a particular context, put yourself in that context. In other words: Be where you want to be lucky.

As an example, I come back to my most favourite conferences.

2. Opportunity Cost

A tea bag fortune text

I had a ‘tea bag fortune text’ once, that said: “Akzeptiere, dass du nur eine Sache auf einmal tun kannst”. In English: “Accept that you can only to one thing at a time”.

You are where you are now, and you can’t be elsewhere. This is obvious, but still important. And there is always a price to pay.

If you’re at a conference listening to a talk, you can’t be in the theatre with your friends at the same time.

Note, that there’s also a price to pay for ignoring this: You may leave the talk half-way through, and rush to the theatre in time for the second act. There’s a price to pay for this, too.

3a. A Caring Community

The best example I have for this are the people at the Agile Testing Days. In 2018, the year I couldn’t attend due to my cancer treatment, I received a get-well card: A huge inflatable unicorn, covered in messages from attendees, speakers & organisers. That’s the biggest and greatest get-well card I ever received.

inflatable get-well unicorn
The inflatable get-well unicorn
(Photo thanks to Sabine Wede & Eddy Bruin)

Here are just 3 of these messages:

  • Marianne Duijst wrote: “All the best! Our community is rooting for you.”
  • Someone from Portugal: “Fique melhor logo” (“Get well soon”, in English)
  • Gitte Klitgaard said: “Hugs & Glitter for you”

This is a prime example of a caring community. A big “Thank you!” to everyone who has sent me get-well wishes, gifts and video messages! It means a lot to me and it helped immensely to get through chemo therapy (and the FOMO from not being able to attend the conference).

3b. A Welcoming Community

My heuristic is this:

When you can embarrass yourself by accidentally misbehaving and you’re still welcome, well, that is a welcoming community.

Let me explain this by an example: Back in 2009, I arrived at the venue of the Agile Testing Days the evening before the conference. Trying to find someone to have dinner with, I tweeted about it, and a super-friendly Canadian answered.

I joined his group and had a great night.

The next day, I tried the same, but without tweeting about it. So I went down to the hotel lobby. The same friendly Canadian told me his group was about to leave for dinner and that I could join, which I did. Food was fantastic!

Later that night, Lisa Crispin turned to me from another table, asking what I was talking about. I told her what we were discussing at my table, but that was not what she wanted to know. She clarified: “No, your session, what are you presenting in your talk.” Me: “I’m just an attendee, I don’t give a talk.” In that moment Elisabeth Hendrickson turned over to me and asked: “But you do know, that this is the speakers dinner, right?” I said: “No!?” Uncomfortable silence started spreading. Embarrassment kicked in, and probably blushing, too. I wanted to disappear there and then.

But I also noticed that everybody else seemed entertained. If I remember correctly, the organisers started laughing.
I was still welcome in the community!

4. Helping & Getting Help

My journey at the Agile Testing Days continued. In 2013 Lisa asked me, if I could help her and Janet Gregory with their keynote. I agreed immediately. — Little did I know, what I was embarking on.

They had prepared a small theatre piece for the beginning of their keynote and I had to play the role of Super Agile Person! I panicked.
This looked like a good opportunity to ruin a keynote, without being a speaker. But again, it went well and people were entertained.

For some reason the embedded video may not be displayed at all times. This is the ‘plain’ link to the YouTube video

A short time later I had the chance to contribute to their second book ‘More Agile Testing’. This helped me in an interview for a project.

Interviewer: “Have you read ‘More Agile Testing’?”
Me: “Yes. In fact I contributed to it.”
Interviewer: “No way!?”
Me: “Kindly open the book on page 372.”
Interviewer: “Wow!”

Imagine this: WHAT IF … I had denied playing SuperAgilePerson?

Apart from all the good things that happened to me by helping people: Helping feels good!

Tip1 № 3:
You can’t possibly predict the strange ways of luck.

At this point I started looking for something better than anecdotes, something scientific.

A More Scientific Way

And there is research: Richard Wiseman studied lucky and unlucky people for about 10 years! He found four principles that can help to lead a luckier life, which you can read about in his paper in the “Skeptical Inquirer” (Volume 27, No.3, May/June 2003) and the book: “The Luck Factor”. In fact, I highly recommend both!

I’ll briefly introduce Wiseman’s principles.

1. Maximise Chance Opportunities

Essentially: Do similar things repeatedly, but vary behaviour.

For a conference, I suggest to try these two things:

Tip № 4
Start lunch alone.
Go a bit early, grab food and sit down at an empty table. Than wait for people to come to your table and ask whether they may join. Of course you welcome them and enjoy a meal together & share ideas and thoughts.

Tip № 5
Don’t start lunch alone.
Start lunch a bit later, grab some food, find a table with a free seat, and ask whether you may join. Most of the time people will welcome you.

2. Listen To Lucky Hunches

Again, the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a hunch as

an idea that is based on feeling and for which there is no proof
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

In other words: Trust your gut feelings.

As far as I can tell, gut feelings still work if you have part of them removed.

3. Expect Good Fortune

This principle does not and cannot always work: I didn’t expect or even hoped to get cancer, but still did.
Notwithstanding, I expected the best given the circumstances. That gave me the strength to do what I could do.

A lead doctor explained to me that walking significantly improves chance of long-term cancer-free survival. The reasons for this are still unclear, but there is evidence the positive effect (see, for example,

I started with 10 steps (with a walking aid). After a while, back at home, I was able to walk around the house.
Now, after more than a year of trying and improving, I can do 90 minutes of training on an ergo-meter, and feel great afterwards.

This is the lesson I learned: I cannot control everything, and sometimes I can only control small things. But some things I can control.

Where else can you expect good fortune? Well, at least for speakers at the Agile Testing Days, you can expect an audience that likes you and that wants you to succeed. You still need to prepare, even prepare for inconveniences, such as notebook failures at the wrong moment or a conference WiFi not being available.

Tip № 6
A word of caution: There are exceptions to this! If in doubt, ask your doctor. Also see Tip № 2 above.

Tip № 7
The audience wants you to succeed.

4. Turn Bad Luck Into Good

In short: It’s the story about a car crash again. See — or even better actively search for — the good things in all events.

Revisit The Definition

Luck is the force that causes things, especially good things,
to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.
— Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

My my opinion some parts of the initial definition of luck can be removed:

First of all, it seems that luck can be affected and is not all about chance and randomness. This leaves us with this:

Luck is the force that causes things, especially good things.

Second of all, I’ve learned that there’s ‘bad luck’, too. With that part removed, the definition now looks like this:

Luck is the force that causes things.

There’s not much left and talking about the force doesn’t explain that much.
I’m sure Obi-Wan Kenobi would approve this:

In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.
– Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi (photo taken at OUTPOST ONE)

With That Said … Am I Lucky?

To me, the answer is a loud and resounding “YES!”.

Having survived cancer literally by accident and having received a tremendously positive feedback after my keynote, I’m lucky, indeed.

Can you be lucky, or luckier than before? Likely. Try to answer this question:

What are you trying this week to be luckier?

Take a moment to think about it, then answer the question, make a plan and do it.


  1. I’m not sure whether this should be a tip or a warning.

2 Replies to “Being Lucky — A Keynote at the Agile Testing Days 2019”

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