Strongly Emergent

What comes from combining humans, computers, and narrative

Don't Let Survivorship Bias Lie to You

In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.

Tobias Buckell is writing for writers— but as someone with both a writer-brain and an engineer-brain, I read him as someone talking about startups as well. Looking at the home-run billion-dollar-valuation startups will certainly tell you some things worth knowing, but it won’t and can’t tell you all the things worth knowing. There are also a lot of things worth knowing that you will only find out by becoming a student of failure.

This is part of what calls to me about Lean Startup stuff, about the developing startup-culture communal knowledge about how to best learn from failure and how to rapidly iterate such that you have a lot of relevant but non-terminal failures to learn from. Life is not all success, and one of the things that you have to do to set yourself up for earned success, is to learn from failure.