Why Successful People Sometimes Offer Terrible Advice

How good advice for someone else can be bad advice for you.

Michal Bernolak
Oct 2, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by Dion Tavenier on Unsplash

World War II, researchers wanted to improve the armor on bomber planes that returned from the front lines. They looked at the most damaged areas on the aircraft and thought they should reinforce those spots.

By McGeddon — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53081927

At first, this seemed like the logical thing to do; however, they didn’t consider an important factor. The planes that returned home with the most damage to specific areas meant that those areas were actually the strongest.

Planes with the most damage in those clustered areas were able to make it home. Researchers discovered that they should be reinforcing the areas with the least amount of damage.

The planes that weren’t coming home were being brought down by damage in the areas that weren’t being damaged on the aircraft that returned. The holes in the planes that returned represented where the aircraft could take the most damage and still return to base.

This is known as survivorship bias.

Look to failure more often for better answers

It’s a mistake to think that successful people can provide all the information you need to understand what it takes to make it.

Similar to the bomber planes that made it back, success is a representation of where strengths lie, and not a good display of critical weaknesses. That information is equally as important and needs to be understood, no matter what your area of focus is.

Successful people are those who survived the environment in which they faced their challenges. Many, many people with similar abilities failed to survive in the same environment over small things that they might have overlooked or that were out of their control.

An example of an unfortunate failure

I have a family friend who was a successful entrepreneur. He started a parcel delivery company in Europe, and it became the main competitor for the government parcel delivery program.

Of course, the government didn’t like this, so they changed some rules and forced him to pivot. He sold his company and started a new furniture company. He bought a factory and numerous machines.

He knew what he was doing in the business, but he had no way of knowing what things to check for when he purchased the factory. The main thing that was overlooked, and almost impossible to know, was checking the power grid for sustained load capacity.

All the numbers checked out in initial tests, but it turned out that one powerline under the floor couldn’t bear the load of all the machines tethered to it over some time. It failed. At first, they didn’t know what happened.

By the time the problem was discovered, and work had begun to repair it, tens of thousands of dollars in capital were lost, and customers were left angry and waiting. This ultimately led to the collapse of the business.

All because of one faulty cable.

You won’t be able to prevent every failure, but you can avoid many

While the success stories are sweet, and they provide value, it is crucial to remember that your path will be different. What worked for someone will not necessarily work for you.

Their luck, their misfortune, and their environment is different from yours. The good thing is that you might not have to face the same challenges that the successful person has suffered. The bad news is that you will have your own problems that won’t have a ready solution at first.

That’s why you must look at the failures of people who came before you. Find out what caused their failure. Was it just poor discipline when the going got tough? Or was it a faulty power line in the floor?

The more information you can gather on failure, the better your chances are at achieving success. Of course, you won’t be able to sidestep all misfortunes, but at least you can be far more prepared.

The secret lesson in all of this

Stop comparing yourself to others. I used to compare myself to my favorite role models all the time. I’d do what they did and wonder why I wasn’t succeeding. Or I’d do what they did and realize I didn’t run into the same problems.

It’s essential to gain motivation and insights from the success of others, but it’s equally as important if not far more important to look at past failures.

For every success, there are at least 100 failures. The question is why. What can you learn from them that you can avoid? Ask questions, read biographies, and stop comparing yourself to others.

You have to forge your path. Don’t necessarily do what others did to achieve success, your path might require a different approach, and you must be open to that.

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Michal Bernolak

Written by

Writer and founder of Hits Different Audio, a mixing and mastering service for music artists.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Michal Bernolak

Written by

Writer and founder of Hits Different Audio, a mixing and mastering service for music artists.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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