Survivorship Bias is a logical error that leads to false conclusions by concentrating on the people or things that made it past a particular selection process. And when we do this, we tend to overlook those that got ignored, typically because of their lack of visibility.
In daily life, because triumph is made more visible than failure, you systematically overestimate your chances of succeeding. As an outsider to succumb to an illusion, and you mistake how minuscule the probability of success and winning really is.
After all does someone who gambles ever wake up in the morning and tell himself a narrative while looking in the bathroom mirror “well how much money am I going to lose today?”. No, he looks in the mirrors and tells himself a completely different narrative, one based on his world view, “today I’m going win.” Until he loses again and again and again……
It happens a lot in our day-to-day lives and negatively impacts our decision-making. A great example is copying what successful people have done and receiving advice from the so-called gurus and experts:
- Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college and became wildly successful. But for most college dropouts, it means unemployment and having more immediate student debt.
- Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar are getting paid highly as football players. But the truth is, most players never make it into a game in their lifetime.
- Motivational gurus talk about following your passion and trusting your gut feelings — but there is no shortage of people who followed their passion and ended up seriously wrong.
When we’re listening to the success stories in any field, we get inspired by the companies, portfolios, and people who made it to the top. What we don’t hear and see are those who tried and failed because generally, people don’t talk about them.
How to Avoid Falling Prey into Survivorship Bias
Understand the survivorship bias itself helps to prevent it from happening in the first place. When you get clear with what it is, it becomes easier for you to see it again and again everywhere.
The next step is to seek the other part of the story that is missing.
Take “following your passion” as a piece of success advice. We first look at successful people who have followed their passions — and indeed, they accomplished what they desired at the end of the day. However, you need to ask ONE other question:
Did people fail because of not following their passions?
If the answer is yes, then we can come to the conclusion that “following your passion” is the key characteristic to accomplish success.
However, the truth is that there are a lot of people who followed their passions and yet failed. This simple question forces us to look at both positive and negative evidence — and only make our assumption certain when there is no way to prove otherwise.
ANOTHER TAKE ON FOLLOWING YOUR PASSION
I have lots of passions, from being an artist, inventor, sewing (yes I do have a sewing machine!), dancing, but, it does not mean I want to pursue these as a career, hence why people fail when sometimes the follow their passion.
The old saying (I’m sure we all heard it from our elders) “what do you want to be when you grow up?” should be adjusted to “what do you want to grow into when you grow up?”.
I advocate that you should be curious and try lots of different stuff, and when you find something you really enjoy doing perhaps then it will grow into a passion. And remember not all passions are going to provide you with a living. So, you have to be very clear about what you want your passion for? Is it just for the passion and the doing of it, and can I still support myself doing other stuff that I am not so passionate about in order to pay the bills.
Seeing the Full Picture
Being aware of survivorship bias and knowing how to avoid falling into it comes with massive upsides. On the surface, it helps you see through the incomplete information others provide intentionally.
But ultimately, it saves you from wasted resources like time and money by helping you to reach a good, well-informed decision.
Survivorship Bias means this: people systematically overestimate their chances of success. Guard against it by frequently visiting the graves of once-promising projects, investments, careers, gurus and experts!
It is a sad walk, but one that should clear your mind.
Excerpts courtesy of: Dean Yeong and Rolf Dobelli (the art of thinking clearly)