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Undersampling of Failure

We all hear or read stories of success, they are everywhere. It can be your mom calling and saying that the neighbour just won a fridge in some competition, a friend updating his LinkedIn status with a new executive position or the well known TechCrunch articles announcing the new funding round that some startup just closed. And then we have the books, all those books, some of them inspirational books, or self-help books bragging about success, wealth and fame. They all end with, ’you just need to do this, this and this like millionaire x, y and z’.

What most of these materials fail to give you is the scope. What was the scope of their research? How big is their sample to prove you that their recipe is the right one? Have they compared the habits of successful people with the ones of folks that only had failure in their lives? Is there any correlation between the groups, successful individuals vs. unsuccessful individuals? I will not even mention their definition of success. Let’s just talk about the scope.

One could say that for each habit that a successful person has, there can exist another unsuccessful person doing exactly the same thing. When we do clinical trials, we need a significant number of cases that allow us to have confidence in our results. If someone tells you to take a pill based on a test done with five people, even if all of them were a success, you probably will not take that pill without knowing the side effects. It is the same thing with magic successful habits. Care about the scope of the sample, make sure that it is based on people with the same conditions as you.

Let’s think for a while on one of the most preached thoughts, the willingness to take risks. The idea that we all should be fearless when we have to make decisions and never think about the worst possible outcome because that simply clouds our judgement. It is things like the ones proliferated by Richard Branson saying: ’being unafraid of failure is, I believe, one of the most important qualities of a champion’, that can lead us to think that tomorrow we should double bet on those particular stocks, because thinking on failing is for losers. Richard Branson might be right about the importance of not fearing failure. The issue is that you don’t read a lot of books by people who were fearless in their decisions and then failed miserly. Being willing to fail could simply not be correlated with success at all. It could be correlated with both great success or great failure. If you think about the expression ‘big risk’, you realize that its definition is something that carries a significant likelihood of things not working out.

Taking advice from successful people can be helpful to you. In the end, those individuals do have success. But do it with a critical attitude. Question every single step of their recipe and remember that each human is different, each one of us is presented with different opportunities in life, and each location has their particularities. We recurrently ignore failure in a way that we rarely stop to consider the immensity of people that follow recipes for success but then fail to achieve the result.

Roberto Machado

About Roberto Machado

Breathes technology and deeply believes, hence the creation of Subvisual, that it is the medium for a better future. Always has 5 min to listen to you.
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