The Survivorship Bias

What is it?

The Survivorship Bias is our tendency to only focus on those who succeeded and ignore those who failed when defining the factors that led to success. This can lead to false conclusions about what contributed to that success. For example, it's easy to assume that because a significant number of CEOs wake up early every day, that waking up early is one the key factors to becoming a CEO.  However, this assumption neglects the fact that millions of people wake up early every day and do not make it to the CEO position.

Overcoming it.

1. Awareness is key - once we understand that we may be “missing what’s missing” we can look for that information. In WWII, the allies almost reinforced planes where those that made it home from battle had been shot – until they realized that the planes survived those hits! The bullet hole locations on the planes that were shot down showed where they actually needed reinforcement.

2. When looking at data or info, think “what is the opposite of what I am seeking out or commonly seeing?”, and check to see if it exists to make sure you have as much data as possible.

Fun Fact!

Per the point above, the discovering of this bias has been attributed to helping the allies in WWII. Military leaders were analyzing where planes that came back from battle had been shot to determine where to invest in additional armor. BUT, statistician Abraham Wald brought forth the argument that these planes survived, and thus those being shot in those locations were less likely to be fatal given that the plane made it home despite the damage. He proposed that the armor would be better invested on the locations that DOWNED planes were hit NOT the surviving planes.