Visiting graveyard of failures

Present day man suffers from numerous biases in every day decision-making. Among the plethora lies survivorship bias (or survivors bias). It’s a bias in which one that succeeds or that survives gets visibility while that could not survive fades out of view.

It’s true that Oxford and Stanford develop best minds but not all minds produced at Oxford or Stanford are equally great. The reason being that only the bright ones get highlighted while those that are not equally bright are not considered. Youngsters inspired by past and contemporary successful musical bands feel that starting their own band will be equally successful, if not more. However, they forget to look at the dozens of bands that started with the same expectations but did not make it so far. Hence, forgotten or never brought into considerations.

Confirmed during World War 2 when enemy hit airplanes brought to base were inspected to determine the parts that could be shielded more. Those parts in planes which showed signs of being hit were decided to be shielded more to increase their survival chances. Abraham Wald, a statistician, instead proposed the opposite. In his view, the basic flaw in the consideration was that only those planes that made it back safely were being considered. Those which could not make it are not being talked about. The parts that showed no sign of damage were in fact the parts that need more reinforcing because these are the parts which cause the planes to be crashed.


The effects of the bias can be seen in all realms of life. We often overestimate our chances of success while underestimate our chances of failure. We do need to focus on successes to see the patterns that lead to the results we looking for. At the same time, by observing what did not work out we can know the patters to avoid. By discarding the failures from our viewscreen, we are actually missing on a critical information that could be fruit-bearing. Rolf Dobelli in his book The Art Of Thinking Clearly puts this notion as ‘Why you should visit cemeteries’. He advices to take ordeal journey from time to time while analysing failed projects, unsuccessful music bands, start-ups that could not survive and so on. Although such cases seldom make it to the spotlight, having a walk through this graveyard of failures will help in better decision-making.

“The harder they looked, the less they saw. And so it is with luck – unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else. They go to parties intent on finding their perfect partner and so miss opportunities to make good friends. They look through newspapers determined to find certain type of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs. Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.”

writes a psychologist, Richard Wiseman.

The purpose of it is not to discourage anyone from planning their endeavours. The intention is to introduce to a more holistic approach where one keeps all considerations in mind to make better decisions. Along with success stories, we need to give due share to failure stories too to have a all-rounder approach. If we put our entire focus on the survivors, we are missing one full half of the picture. What-to-do and what-not-to-do together complete the puzzle.


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