The Upside Down

If you’re someone who watches Stranger Things, you would have figured out the title. If not, then go watch Stranger things. It’s a brilliant show. But if you’re not going to watch it, then read on.

So basically the Upside Down is a parallel universe. It’s based on the whole multi-verse theory that every action or decision that you make leads to a sort of parallel timeline or universe. Some of which can be dark. Very dark.

So what does this post have to do with all that? No this post is not about TV shows or quantum physics. I’m sure you would have stumbled upon posts on the internet like –“10 things successful people do differently” or “20 Habits of successful people”. This post is going to be the opposite of all that. The Upside Down. The perspective you need but don’t want right now. ( Yes, I know you’re probably wondering how I started out at Stranger things and ended up here. Well, I have a pretty crazy train of thought. Try not to get lost, okay? :P )

“Failure is the stepping stone to success”. This is something most people have heard a lot. Be it to rationalize their own failures or as a line to comfort someone else. But very few of us understand what it means and how important it can be. People read all these articles of what successful people do and assume they’ve reached where they are today cause of those “20 habits”, but what they don’t get is that their failures have played an equal if not more important role in helping them succeed.

I guess right now you’re thinking, “But hey! Those articles do a pretty good job in motivating us!” Well, wrong! So have you heard of this thing called survivorship bias? Survivorship bias is a cognitive bias that distorts your ability to make decisions by only considering events of success. It is because of this phenomena that articles about successful people are probably doing you more harm than good. They make you believe that if your habits somehow match the habits of these successful people it would guarantee you success as well. But unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. You could be doing everything that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg did. You could drop out of college and risk everything but still not make it.

To better illustrate my above point here’s a little story I came across. So during World War II, the US government wanted to improve their aircraft survivability. Which bascially means they wanted to make sure that most of their aircrafts made it back home after carrying out an attack. And so they entrusted this task to a team of statisticians that was lead by Abraham Wald. So as part of his analysis, what Wald did was something pretty simple. He passed out cards to bomber crews and he asked the bomber crews that as the planes came in, they were to mark the parts of the plane that suffered the most damaged. The cards ended up being placed around clusters that indicated zones that incurred the most amount of damage as illustrated.

So the commander at the time realized they could use this knowledge immediately. You can’t obviously armour an entire plane. It would be too heavy to fly, but you can armour parts of the plane that are most vulnerable. So he decided to armour just these four parts that were most likely to get shot at or damaged. When Wald saw this he was like, hold on! These were the planes that made it back despite being shot at those parts. The observation of the commander was skewed in the direction of the survivors. He was missing what was missing. Which means we have to assume that the other planes that didn’t make it were shot at where these planes were not. Hence it would make more sense to armour the other parts of the plane rather than these four parts. This obviously worked and turned the tide of the war.

Okay that story was a little bit longer than I thought it would be. But hopefully you got the point.

Finally, I’d like to end this post with this last point. To get this across, I think I’ll use the example of the restaurant business. Most people if not everyone has at one point dreamed of opening their own restaurant. You would have visited restaurants in an area that are making money hand over fist and thought to yourself, “hmmm, I could do this!” But your views are based on survivorship bias. You’re only looking at the restaurants that made it, when in reality over 75% restaurants shut down after three years. You’re only looking at the success of the restaurants that have survived as opposed to the many restaurants in the same area that have failed. And if you were to ask these successful restauranteurs about the decisions they made, their advice is going to be skewed by the clarity of hindsight as even they didn’t know back then if the decisions they were going to make were going to work or not. In addition to that, these successful restauranteurs will not be able to tell you what not to do as their decisions worked out for them. Whereas, the failed restauranteur is sitting on this giant bank of information on how not to fail, but no one is ever going to figure that out as no one wants to hear what a failure has to say as the advice business is a monopoly run by successful people. My point is most of us tend to forget that there is a lot to be learn’t from the failed restauranteur. Unfortunately, society filters out people who have failed and that’s why we never get to know the other side.

So in conclusion, am I telling you to ignore the advice of successful people all together? No! I’m just asking you to look at the other side of it as well. The Upside Down. The dark side. Be skeptical of advice by successful people. Success and failure are two sides to the same coin and by considering both sides you’ll learn more.

If you want to know more about survivorship bias, read more articles or would like links to my sources, you can check out my knott(collection) on Interknott. The link is given below. If you want to add on to my knott, send me collaboration request using the same link below.

Interknott Link : https://www.interknott.com/knott/136?name=Survivorship-Bias

Thank you.