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Survivorship bias

successStoriesEveryone loves a success story!

The internet is rife with inspirational stories of how people have beaten the odds and triumphed in their pursuits and endeavours. More often than not, such stories are presented to us in a manner which encourages us to see what these people did right in order for us to learn from their successes and hopefully replicate their positive results. The same holds true for articles which provide "tips and tricks" or advice from prominent individuals regarded to be experts in their field. We read these stories to draw inspiration, to increase our knowledge of the field, or perhaps simply as a morale booster to see us through tough times...a bookish pep-talk of sorts. While this could be beneficial, if we focus solely on these success stories, we run the risk of always looking at a one-sided picture, a half-truth.

The stark reality is that many, many stories are in fact, to some degree, failures. However nobody enjoys reading about how difficult it is to achieve our goals, or how many people have already tried and failed at doing exactly the same thing we are trying to do. Besides being a hit to our morale, we tend to think that since they must have done something wrong, they aren't the ones to learn from. So we look towards the celebrity figures as the sole source of wisdom.

However what we fail to realise is that failures probably offer us much more valuable information than the successes. By seeing where things went wrong, we learn how to avoid doing the same mistakes. I'm not saying that we should focus on the negative rather than the positive. That would simply be recreating the problem from an opposite perspective. One must have a healthy dose of both and look at all the available information.

Naturally the issue is much more complex than that, but the basic concept is that we must not blindly separate the winners from the losers or even fail to recognise that there are in fact losers in every scenario.

If you're not one to be deterred by lengthy articles, I strongly suggest you read David McRaney's article on Survivorship Bias. It's a very interesting read and extremely well written.

Whether you're trying to start a profitable business, pursuing academic studies or you are simply creating games for fun and are trying to understand what works and what doesn't, make sure you don't fall victim to survivorship bias.

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