In World War II – The US Military examined planes that were coming back for battle and looking at where they were shot. The proposed that they should add additional armor where the plane were hit… But that is incredibly flawed logic. Abraham Wald contradicted the conclusion the US Military came to, stating “you are looking at planes that survived battle… ” The correct thing is to look at planes that were shot down, and figure out why they didn’t make it back. It is adding armor to weak spots should be the correct conclusion.
This is a well documented theory now called “Survivorship Bias”. And the examples of this are used often. I had posted in 2016 about an artist I knew did a lot of work, drafts, versions etc. before the perfect painting was completed. I didn’t really relate this to survivorship bias in the core sense, but it is. So any time you hear a song from a band that hits the charts, see a great painting from an artist what you are seeing is just that. The hundreds of other failures are missing.
This leads me something that I didn’t realize I was doing, and in some cases we see at much larger scale. I have posted for years pictures of my commute by ferry (sunrises and sunsets) – and I often get ‘wow’ that is amazing. Of course I only post the ones that truly are stunning. What most people don’t see, is the 1,000’s of pictures I have taken, sometimes 10-20 in a single commute to get the one picture I post. I have also been taking pictures for years, starting photography when I was a teen (had dark room in my basement) and continuing to explore the hobby all of my life.
Recently, I have seen the growth of people making money on social media (Youtube, FB, Instagram, TikTok) and this notion that there is a “creator economy…” And got me thinking about connecting the dots. Based on what TikTok pays, for a million views you get a whopping $20. I do think Youtube pays more, Twitter doesn’t pay anything yet. But how many people actually are “posting” to these platforms, and how many people are getting enough views to make a living?
What starts popping up now are classes on how to make money making videos on platform x. If you were making enough money doing it, why sell a class? But I also start putting this in perspective, how many high school athletes play college than pro? How many top students get full rides to Ivy schools then make millions? How many garage startups become the next Apple or Google? The odds may be against you, but obviously if you do not take the risk there is no possibility of reward.
There are also people posting about crypto, options trading, beat the stock market memes etc. And showing their ‘accounts’ as proof. They are also ‘selling their formula.’ Not many showing how many times they lose, or there is no one posting on social media a class how they failed at ‘investing’. Now of course there are people who complain, and freak out on their personal posts, but no one offering a class on how to fail. But the success stories (other than the fraud) is more of survivorship bias vs. failures.
When I was growing up, the general statement was “Go to college, get a degree, get a job for life with a pension.” But also note, the same economist that stated that also promoted “Globalization, and moving of low wage manufacturing jobs would raise the level of economic growth of all countries” (This was mostly the excuse for the US to move away from manufacturing to Third World countries and we all would grow, but I guess that should be another conversation) The notion of going to college was based on a chart that people with a ‘Degree’ were higher earners vs those with just a High School Diploma. Is that again a symptom of Survivorship bias?
And lastly, there are a lot of great books written about “how to be successful” by people who were successful. But, looking at many of them, maybe there was more luck than anything (genetics lottery, right place right time etc.) I go back to my simple thought, of being the best Larry Gold I can be, and try to succeed at that. And not chase other people’s success, or think wow just cause so-so is making money on social media that if I just followed those simple steps I will. That a podcast, Youtube, TikTok etc. will suddenly bring me in tons of passive income. I follow my passions in my job, my family, my friends and things I do, and find success in that (and that is my survivorship bias..) Oh and I will post my occasional commute pictures….
This opinion is mine, and mine only, my current or former employers have nothing to do with it. I do not write for any financial gain, I do not take advertising and any product company listed was not done for payment. But if you do like what I write you can donate to the charity I support (with my wife who passed away in 2017) Morgan Stanley’s Children’s Hospital or donate to your favorite charity. I pay to host my site out of my own pocket, my intention is to keep it free. I do read all feedback, I mostly wont post any of them
This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog.