Success is personal. To obtain your definition of success, you study the path of individuals who have attained this. But before acting on this notion, please take the following into account.
Nowadays, when someone achieves any success, it is turned into a way to make money. With an empty promise for results, many people try… But to no avail.
We fall for this because of the Survivorship Bias — meaning that we only consider the successful outcomes, ‘the survivors.’ But when someone survives failure, we can’t assume that his or her method is also successful. We ignore all the people who tried that very same method but failed. And trust me, there are a lot more of these.
This is not only the case for online success stories, but for successful people in history, the outcomes of events, profitable businesses, and even our own lives.
We fail to take into account the whole range; we only measure the ones who come out of the process. All the ones that didn’t cause us to forget the following:
Just imagine the number of people we don’t hear from.
We are quick to think that this individual must be way more skilled. But luck — among other external factors — also plays a role.
I am not saying that all successful people just got lucky. I’m saying that we concentrate on successes because we don’t see the evidence of all the failures.
So every time you study someone who has made it, consider that you ignore all of those who did not. Sadly, we never take into account this silent evidence, which is the hidden proof of all the ones that did not succeed:
“Consider the thousands of writers now completely vanished from consciousness: their record did not enter analyses. We do not see the tons of rejected manuscripts because these have never been published, or the profile of actors who never won an audition — therefore cannot analyze their attributes.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan
Just because we cannot see the concealed evidence does not mean it is nonexistent.
Consider this scenario:
A new patient asks another patient: How long have you’ve been seeing the doctor for your illness? The patient responds, “I’ve been coming here for 5 years for the same illness…” If you base the doctor’s success on this, you think he must be terrible. But actually, you discover that most of his patients are there only once. They are successfully cured and do not return.
So we fail to consider silent evidence — all the ones that are not sitting in the doctor’s waiting room.
Also, don’t forget the position you’re judging success from.
Reference Point Argument
Don’t just measure from a favorable point of view. Measure from a standpoint that considers the entire group that tried.
We miss the broad picture because we study only from the perspective of successful individuals:
‘… such risky behavior [sticking with a failing business] is a prime example of the danger of making inferences solely — or disproportionately — from successful people and organizations. … But while risk-taking can lead to either spectacular success or disastrous failure, looking only at successes will show a positive correlation between success and risk-taking.’ — Jerker Denrell, Stanford Business
We can also apply this to our own lives:
Consider how many things had to be just right for you to be reading this right now. We are blind to all the species that failed, the people who never reached their goals, the ideas that never spread…
But more concerning is that we do not even realize it. Since after all, we’re the lucky ones that made it.
So why is our view on success wrong? We only look at successful results. We don’t consider all the ones that tried a similar method but failed. Remember that there are so many factors influencing the process.
The advice: don’t mistake successful results with successful methods.
Success is based on past achievements, so we can’t assume future methods will be successful as well. In many situations, the outcomes don’t justify a fixed path.
Someone’s success might be real, but that doesn’t mean his/her course, expertise, or procedure will be.
So the next time you see success, avoid making any assumptions. Instead, seek to consider the entire group that tried to survive and win. Make a habit out of questioning success instead of blindly praising it.
This will allow you to see the nature of success more clearly.
Thank you. I hoped this set your mind to wonder.