In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly
, author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli writes that because triumph is made more visible than failure, we systematically overestimate our chances of success.
Dobelli illustrates this tendency with a story about an aspiring musician named Rick.
No matter where Rick looks, he sees rock stars. They appear on TV, on his favorite websites, and in concert programs. Their songs are unavoidable – in the gym, on his phone, and playing in the local coffee shop.
From Rick’s view, successful rock stars are everywhere. Inspired by their success and the stories of countless guitar heroes, Rick starts a band.
Will he make it big?
As Dobelli puts it, the probability “lies a fraction above zero.”
Like so many others, Rick will likely end up in the graveyard of failed musicians. There are many more musicians in that graveyard than on the stage. It can be difficult to see just how large the graveyard is because the media isn’t interested in covering failures – “with the exception of fallen superstars.”
The same is true for architects, athletes, beauty queens, entrepreneurs, Nobel Prize winners, and others.
Because it’s not the media’s job to dig around the graveyards of the unsuccessful, in order to guard against “survivorship bias,” you must do the digging yourself.
Dobelli recommends occasionally visiting the graves of once-promising careers, investments, and projects. It is a depressing walk, “but one that should clear your mind.”