If you are thinking about opening a restaurant because there are so many successful restaurants in your hometown, you are ignoring the fact the only successful restaurants survive to become examples. Maybe on average 90 percent of restaurants in your city fail in the first year. You can’t see all those failures because when they fail they also disappear from view.These words of wisdom are from David McRaney, whose work illuminates common human mistakes - in this case, survivorship bias. If we want to know how to succeed, shouldn't we look to successful people and companies for lessons to follow? The paradox is that we can often learn more from those who fail:
Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes... You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life... Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning. The problem here is that you rarely take away from these inspirational figures advice on what not to do, on what you should avoid, and that’s because they don’t know. Information like that is lost along with the people who don’t make it out of bad situations or who don’t make it on the cover of business magazines – people who don’t get invited to speak at graduations and commencements and inaugurations.McRaney goes on:
If you spend your life only learning from survivors, buying books about successful people and poring over the history of companies that shook the planet, your knowledge of the world will be strongly biased and enormously incomplete. As best I can tell, here is the trick: When looking for advice, you should look for what not to do... [K]eep in mind that those who fail rarely get paid for advice on how not to fail, which is too bad because despite how it may seem, success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.