Survivorship Bias is our tendency to focus on successful examples and ignore failures. The failures often didn’t survive to be seen, so we miss them. The outcomes that we do see were the ones that “survived”.
When we only take into account the successful examples, this leads to a distorted view of reality. In the book The Black Swan
, Nassim Taleb said:
The cemetery of failed restaurants is very silent.
He’s suggesting that we might easily be affected by Survivorship Bias when looking at the restaurant industry.
In particular, those entering the restaurant business might not see (or focus on) the huge proportion of entrants that failed, but instead see the few of the very best that survived - buoying their enthusiasm and confidence of success. Entering the restaurant business might look like great way to make a living! Unfortunately a large proportion of entrants are doomed to fail.
In the Media
An even easier way to find examples of Survivorship Bias is to just look at any media outlet! They’re littered with coverage of leading athletes or entrepreneurs and their so-called secrets to success.
One classic is the coverage of the story of Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard then becoming a billionaire… (or more recently Mark Zuckerberg). This is contrasted by probably near zero mentions of the college dropouts who aren‘t billionaires.
Here’s an example in an article from CNBC. There isn’t any mention of all the college dropouts that didn’t achieve what Gates did: