Survivorship Bias

In yesterday’s podcast, I talked about reaching 20,000 plays … and the fact that (in the scheme of things) it wasn’t that big of a number.

It’s tortoise growth. Slow and steady.

But that got me thinking about why 20,000 plays feels both big and inconsequential at the same time.

I think it’s an unremarked effect of Survivorship Bias.

In 2013, I first read Rolf Dobelli’s eye-opening book, The Art Of Thinking Clearly.

And almost the first thing he talked about was Survivorship Bias. The idea is simple … we tend to overestimate our chances of success in any endeavour, because the examples we have access to all succeeded.

Great companies. Great artists. Great entrepreneurs.

But as Dobelli says, behind every successful author (to take a random example), there are thousands of failures.

We study successful artists, entrepreneurs and businesses to ‘learn’ their secrets. But (like the Nazi’s in Indiana Jones) we’re digging in the wrong place.

The failures have more to teach us, and as Dobelli says, we’d be better off looking in graveyards.

So survivorship bias causes us to overestimate our chances of success.

But, I think there’s something else.

I think it also causes us to abandon our strategies too soon.

For example, when I was ‘sizing’ my 20,000 plays (and doing my little dance), I was also focusing on the big players. The podcasters who have thousands of followers and millions of listens.

And that’s an easy way to get discouraged, abandon ship, and look for the next ‘shiny’ tactic.

But I too, need to put my 20k into perspective by wandering the graveyards. Thinking about all the podcasts that got started in a burst of excitement and floundered soon after. Those that reached 5 episodes, or 10, or 20 … and ran out of steam.

StoryHacker is at 476 short episodes, and it’s not going anywhere.

In fact, I’d argue it’s become a critical part of my creative process.

But we’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy the podcast.