We like to look at successful people in our field and ask what they did right, but we really ought to ask what they (and others) did wrong. Attempting to distill the virtues of triumph erases the most important element: failure.
We favour a look at success due to a phenomenon known as “survival bias”, which causes our brains to ignore everything except for what went right. For example, we look to old people on advice for living a long life when we should really examine those who died early to learn what to avoid. David McRaney, author of the blog and book on self-delusion You Are Not So Smart, explains why we commonly make this error:
It is easy to do. After any process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are often destroyed or muted or removed from your view. If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognise that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognise that there is missing information at all. You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.
So what do you do about this? Whenever you’re looking at why someone succeeded, consider their mistakes and the mistakes of others on the same quest for success. Don’t focus narrowly on their path and what they did. Remain open to other experiences. You must look at the entire picture, or you’ll miss the lesson altogether.
Survivorship Bias [You Are Not So Smart]