Survivorship Bias

We all want to know how, exactly, winners win. What do athletes eat, drink, or do to win gold? How many hours a week do top students study to get into Harvard? What strategies do the top performers use to separate themselves from the pack? While it may be interesting to hear their stories, taking lessons from them isn’t always advisable.

Of the many fallacies we fall victim to when we’re scrutinizing how winners, well, win, “survivorship bias” is a biggie.

What is “Survivorship Bias”?

“Survivorship bias” is a logical error that we commit when we only examine winners and assume what we notice is what got them to the top of the podium. It’s sometimes illustrated through the example of WWII planes. When considering where to place a limit supply of armor on a plane, the British military needed to ignore the places where planes had been hit and
survived. They needed, instead, to focus on the planes that didn’t survive to see where the vulnerabilities existed. Right?

The Same Goes for Success

The same principle applies to success. We all agree that Bill Gates is a mega- success, right? But can we say it’s because he dropped out of Harvard? We cannot, in fact, look at any single step in his journey as “necessary” to success. We can only say that it worked for him. We’d make a big mistake if we said that everyone who has a good idea should drop out of college. But because that’s one of the flashiest details, it’s something we latch onto.

Every Journey is Unique

The truth is, if you try to follow someone else’s path to success, you’re likely to fail. That’s because it isn’t your path. In fact, skipping college and setting up shop in a garage might be on the long list of factors for failure for some people. We just don’t know. They don’t write books about those people. If you take anything from the rows and rows of entrepreneurial success books, remember that there are lots of different routes to success. Follow your own journey and your own path.

Don’t fall into the “survivorship bias” trap. Look, not at what worked for others, but at what works for you. Examine what makes your strengths uniquely yours and what feeds those strengths. Your Law firm will rise on the strengths you have as a leader and will fall on your weaknesses. Learn to maximize your strengths and your world becomes a world of endless opportunity.


To Your Continued Success,


Luis Raul Scott, Jr.