Survivorship Bias Explained

You might know and name successful peoples easily, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg.

The fact that we know it, is also the fact it is what the media is paying attention at. We see it on the news, television, internet, social media. They always put spotlights the most successful ones. Someone is making riches on a businesses, new startup got a funding, someone wins a lottery, etc.

What media fails to portray is the millions of people, thousands of businesses that go fail and completely unnoticed.

Explanation from Wikipedia:

Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways

We are “concentrating” too much on a successful few, and fail to notice millions of those who fail.

That’s when this Life Pro Tip (LPT) comes in:

LPT: Pay more attention to what losers do wrong than to what winners do right

(Read the full Reddit thread here:

So, please take a grain of salt when you read “inspirational” stories about those who are popular and successful. I don’t discredit their abilities and their ambition, etc. Yes, they might be unique in some way, they might persevere when others most likely will give up. But just remember there probably is a person like them, equally able and smart, who did not succeed.

The correct perception should be: the correct skills, abilities, mindset, grit etc. are essential to improve the chances of success, but is still not enough to guarantee a success.

There’s always a relevant XKCD comic talking about survivor bias:


That’s the simplest explanation, it is like a lottery winner to “believe in yourself” and keep buying lottery tickets.

There’s also a good comment by a redditor on the LPT thread above:

by Soundofawesome – 4.7k points – 1 year ago


This is great. In the Navy there was a saying that went something like ” All the policies and procedures we have were written in blood”.


Meaning the blood of people who’d died because the policy didn’t exsist.


It’s incredibly important we learn not only from our own mistakes and failure but those of others.


by u38cg2 – 369 points – 1 year ago


Every rule on a ship is a memorial to a dead sailor.

So, it is very useful to learn from the failures, rather than from the winners. What did they do wrong, what leads into disaster, what should not be done, how they ignore the red flags.

It is found everywhere, here’s another example of Survivorship Bias:

by TheSuperCactus – 4.1k points – 10 months ago


After steel helmets were introduced in WW1, the amount of head injuries increased sharply. When higher-ups were considering scrapping the helmets as a result, it was soon pointed out that these injuries would have been fatal if the men were still wearing cloth caps.

(Taken from another reddit thread: “What’s the best example of survivorship bias?”

In case you are looking for more examples, or if a video lecture is more convenient for you, you can watch this TEDx video:

Also if you love a heavier reading, “You Are Not So Smart” podcast series has a lengthy writeup on this:

Both the video and article are written by the same person, David McRaney.

I will put below some excerpts from the article above:

Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, “A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight.” … He sums it up like so, “If you group successes together and look for what makes them similar, the only real answer will be luck.”

If you see your struggle this way, as partly a game of chance, then as Google Engineer Barnaby James writes on his blog, “skill will allow you to place more bets on the table, but it’s not a guarantee of success.” Thus, he warns, “beware advice from the successful.”