Why Failure is Mathematically Necessary for Content Creation

A model driven approach to success.

Nothing is worse than spending hours of your time creating a blog post, video, or website only to see little to no interaction. It can be extremely intimidating to publish your own content online, especially if you don’t get any feedback to begin with. Questions will run through your mind — should I just keep my thoughts to myself? Are people rolling their eyes when they read my post? I’ll never make it as a writer.

Those thoughts can be mathematically modeled to be wrong.

Don’t worry, there won’t be any fancy proofs here. Just a data-based analysis of my own writing experience, and the encouraging thought that success in any endeavor requires repeated failure.

A Quick Briefing of Models

Before I show why failure is necessary for success, we need to understand two models first. Whether you have a math background or not, it’s very useful to understand the concept of a normal distribution. This model has a centered mean/average value with a standard deviation associated with it.

Many aspects of reality can be modeled with normal distributions. Some common examples of data that can be modeled by a normal distribution include the heigh of men or women, the weight of newborn babies, or blood pressure.

The normal distribution is visually described in the plot below. The y axis is completely arbitrary here, what’s important is that most of the data is centered around an average value (zero in this plot). A standard deviation is a statistical value that tells us how far away we are from the mean. If we move left or right of the zero mean by one standard deviation, we include 34..1%+34.1%=64.2% of the data.

The normal distribution tells us that the vast majority of our data lies around some centered average value — any observations beyond a few standard deviations are outliers.

From Wikipedia

The second model we are going to look at is a long-tail distribution based on the power law. Without getting into any equations, the power law describes a relationship where most of the values are small on average, while a small selection of those values are much larger than the rest.

A common real world example is earthquakes. There are thousands of tiny earthquakes happening around the world every day, but occasionally there are those few really big ones that humanity has to prepare for.

The visual description for a distribution based on the power law is displayed below. It’s called a long-tail distribution because the right side of the graph tapers off towards zero.

From Wikipedia

The More You Fail, the Better Your Odds for Success

Now that we understand a normal distribution vs a long-tail distribution, let’s detail why this is important to you. When we look at examples of content creation, we quickly find out that the success of a post or video is not normally distributed.

In fact, content creation follows a long-tail distribution.

Let’s look at the reads of my own blog posts as an example. The vast majority of my posts don’t receive much traction. However, there are a small subset of blog posts that have done very well. Well enough that I made over $800 last month alone. I don’t include that number to brag, I include it to make a point that it’s very rare to have all of your blog posts do well. Rather, it’s a short list of posts that can make writing a profitable endeavor.

My personal blog posts — Made with Python & Matplotlib

What’s the key takeaway here? It’s that failure is necessary in fields such as marketing, entrepreneurship, writing or vlogging. Let’s go over another example involving a trained scientist and an entrepreneur. The scientist has a salary of $250k on average, while the entrepreneur has an expected salary of $200k. However, that entrepreneur is gonna be scraping by at the start of their company.

Whether or not the entrepreneur finds long-term success is largely based on how many times they are willing to fail. Since entrepreneurship follows a long-tail distribution, the success of the entrepreneur involves the relentless effort to create a company that is part of those large left-skewed values.

While the quality of content obviously matters, the early stages heavily revolve around not giving up. The vast majority of your content will vanish into the ethers of the internet — but some of your content will resonate with readers.

This is the content you have to capitalize on.

Creating Better Content From the Power Law

While most of my articles don’t do that great, the average number of views for my articles have continued to increase as I gain followers, publish my work in more established publications, etc. The select blog posts I’ve written that have done really well are what I base my future work on. Some of the primary patterns I have learned from my top posts include:

  • Writing posts with the format “X tips that help with Y”.
  • Having a capturing title image.
  • Focusing on a who, what, or why.
  • Creating content that is first and foremost useful to the reader — my personal style comes as a close second.
  • Keeping my writing concise, with a clear reward for the reader.
  • Making sure each blog post is a perfect fit for the publication I submit to.

I truly believe that viewing your content through the lens of a power-law distribution is both motivating and insightful. Continuous failure truly is the path to success, and learning from those failures only expedite your journey. So take the time to review your own content and see what does best — you may just learn the secrets of what makes your own thoughts worth sharing.

I hope you enjoyed this article and were able to gain some inspiration to view failure as a necessary step towards success. If you enjoyed any aspects of the article, or have your own takes on how to make it in content creation, please leave a comment below! Thanks for reading.

BS in Computer Science & Applied Math. Writing about software, blockchain technologies and what I find interesting!

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