Success is merely luck…
To the editor:
Success is a luck-based random variable. Hence, the advice of famous entrepreneurs will only be useful to the lucky. In her opinion article “The Podcast Bros Want to Optimize Your Life,” dated August 3rd, 2018, the author, Molly Worthen is enamored of the self-improvement advice of entrepreneurs and self-help gurus. Despite briefly acknowledging that “too much faith in self-improvement glosses over structural injustices that place real limits on what’s possible for many people,” she makes no further mention of the inapplicability of the gurus’ advice to average people. Furthermore, she only continues to promote the entrepreneurs’ greatness. In doing so, she becomes a victim of the survivorship bias.
Exemplary cases of the survivorship bias are all famous Hollywood movie stars we know and love, e.g. Leonardo Di Caprio or Brad Pitt, who, despite their diligence, were still lucky at the end of the day. Success might have come to them simply because they were the most physically attractive candidates. These lucky few made it by virtue of countless factors completely unrelated to talent. Thorough personal research as a longtime passionate entrepreneur has led me to a simple conclusion: the odds of becoming famously successful out of an ever-increasing global population are massively against us, less likely than even the 1 in 200 million chance of winning the lottery. Gurus typically lack sufficient data that would take into consideration not only those who made it, but also those who failed in becoming successful. That results in an inability to make accurate recommendations to large audiences. The unfortunate truth is simple: not everyone wins in the game of life; the public will never hear of the lessons learnt by the thousands who failed auditions for Pitt’s roles for example, which in turn leads to the skewed perception of the probability of any venture succeeding.
Awareness of the survivorship bias is meant to make us skeptical of moneymaking schemes based on the success of actual (still lucky) moneymakers. We might not achieve global fame, but we are already unique miracles that have defied the odds: by the time we exist, we have survived 1 in 400 trillion odds. Our focus should be on our individual success formulas, which are unique due to everyone having different resources at their disposal. If even that is to fail, the evolutionary primary goal of species’ procreation and caring for the next of kin will surely motivate the rest of us (who aren’t Brad Pitt) to do the best we can.