Graeme Newell

Survivorship Bias

The business journals don’t profile the inventive, hard-working owner of a newly bankrupt business. No one creates a sizzling new video on the athlete who sacrificed everything, but then washed out.

Why? Because hearing stories of failure reminds us of our own chances. The harsh reality is that most new businesses fail. Most of us don’t achieve the corner office. Success is an anomaly.

But we still vainly search for a success playbook, something we can emulate. The hard truth is that random luck plays a gigantic role, but we still tend to attribute both success and failure to personal insight and ability.

In my own case, I just happened to start my business at the very beginning of a huge sales boom in my particular sector, but I never credited my success to that. I was too busy believing that I was some sort of business savant and pontificating business advice.

In our lives, each of us will be blessed to study at the feet of two wise masters: success and failure. Most of us will attribute the successes to our own exceptionalism, and blame our failures on coworkers, bad timing, competitors or just bad luck.

Become a collector of stories of failure. There is great wisdom there. The vanquished can be a prescient guide to help you traverse the difficulties that will inevitably arise. They have probably already dealt with the business-crushing obstacle you’ve never even considered. Who understands the challenges better than someone who failed and lived to tell about it?