Joel Kleier's Electric Froth

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Survivorship Bias

by Joel Kleier on 2014-11-07


Here’s a Wikipedia article on a phenominon called survivorship bias. Basically, when concentration is given only to people or things that have "survived" a process, there can be a bias towards overly optimistic beliefs about the survivors.

Reading Hacker News or Reddit with any regularity, it’s easy to learn about all sorts of amazing things that other people do. While this can be encouragement to work hard to do amazing things in one’s own life, it can also lead into the opposite direction, and foster feelings of worthlessness and under-achievement. Seeing so many people do so many things that look like they are so much better than anything you’ve done can trick you into believing you can’t do anything great.

Wrong!

When you read about other people doing amazing things, you are not reading about the other not-so-amazing things they’ve done to create that one amazing thing. Very rare is the person that can start doing amazing things without prior experience, and keep doing amazing things consistently. 'Very rare' may be to common…​ perhaps a more appropriate description would be 'never'.

People make mistakes, people fail, and if all you do is read the likes of Hacker News and Reddit, you’ll never see all the hard work that goes into success.

Part of the equation is reading and learning from other people, but the other part, the one you cannot ignore, is that amazing things come from doing things and failing a lot first.