On Survivorship Bias

In daily life, because triumph is made more visible than failure, we repeatedly and routinely overestimate our chances of succeeding. We succumb to an illusion, and we do not realize how small the probability of success really is.

This illustrates:

Survivorship bias

This bias exists in all walks of life: photographers, artists, Nobel Prize winners, start-ups, stocks, etc.The media will not report the failures. You will have to search for it yourself.

In some areas in your life, you may succeed. Your success may stem from pure coincidence but your mind will discover similarities with other winners and will be tempted to mark these as “success factors”. But what you really need to do is to look at the failures and see whether these failures also had the so-called “success factors” . In reality, many do.

If enough people look at a particular phenomenon, a few of these studies will deliver statistical significant results through pure coincidence and attain popularity and attention. The truth may be the opposite.

So:

  • We routinely and repeatedly overestimate our chances of success.
  • Visit the graves of once-promising projects, investments and careers. It will be disappointing and sad but will clarify facts and clear your mind.

-notes from “The Art Of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli

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