Terms that make me chuckle: Survivorship bias

image Survivorship bias is based on the claim there is a logic error in concentrating on the people or things that "survived"—or succeeded— some process and overlooking all the failures from the same system.

It’s often used to beat up on anyone who writes a book on investment or business strategy. The reality is that most businesses fail and most people who attempt to succeed at something fail (at least once) so, what’s the point of studying success if these people can’t provide a systematic, step-by-step that guarantees success.

Makes sense if your approach to the world is to blame everyone else for your life.

Y’know, because such a bias is why most people get that one way ticket to Palookaville.

I call total-BS on anyone and everyone who hides behind survivorship bias. The simple fact is that it is everywhere and applies to everything. Therefore, as a single variable solution sought out by the dimwitted and lazy of thought, it’s simply not a viable argument.

Let’s take corn. One kernel of corn, when planted, produces about 600 kernels of corn on a single ear.

What an amazing display of prosperity!

But the survivorship bias people would rather point out that most kernels of corn never grow into plants.

They’re all failures.

Therefore, the study of why a seed successfully grows from the ground is an optimistic estimation of success. It ignores the gerbillions of kernels that coulda been a contender. Clearly those evil kernels of corn are actually holding back the real secrets of their success. They’re just growing so they can spread their evil DNA.

Boo hisssssss

Does every person who studies “real hard” get a perfect GPA?


Does every person shooting 500 foul shots a day get into the NBA?


Does every person taking karate, and who learns all the katas, get a black belt?


I could go on and on, but what’s the point?

If every success could be perfectly hammered into a simple step-by-step process, we would all have perfect lives and there would be no need for any self-help books. You’d just go to the Post Office and look up your solution on the wall.

Yes, survivorship bias can be used to mess with statistical data—and I do happen to grok stats—but that’s not what I’m talking about here. If you want to succeed, model success. Don’t spend your time wallowing on what is preventing you from getting there. Tag that wall with a laser and show it who’s boss.


And for your viewing pleasure: The inspirational scene from On the Waterfront.

I coulda been a contender

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