Survivorship Bias

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Survivorship Bias…. I am convinced.

Top 10 this. Top 10 that. Chances are you were “drawn” to these things sprawling across everywhere as “click baits”. “Look-At-Me” Corporate Dinner Awards. Then the pecs. Biceps. Abs. 

I know I’ve been drawn to “click” onto these stories should I struggle for attaining “inspirations.”. Or when I am just simply down. No doubt people keeps throwing out knee jerk “advices” and feel good “motivational quotes” around. Claiming he/she has been through “worser” in circumstances, in comparison.

I have been lately quite immersed on finding out why people do this.

It appears they uphold every Utilitarian meaning of humanity. Empathy and subjectivity is absent. They resort to External Influences. Such are “Fames” and “successes”. Both seemingly only Qualified through Quantified mass exposure.

It all began from me reading Michael Smith’s blog “Critical Mas”. He believed that the fitness and health industries are subject to this cognitive worshipping known as Survivorship Bias.

…And from there I remain perplexed. How can this be ignoredNo matter where in all realms of sensationalism – celebrities (or more convincingly, deceased), kept being recited over and over again. For their intellectual worth as A DRIVING VEHICLE for rationalising almost anything. As mass prescriptive panacea. Just by being exposed.

I cannot help but these made me recall my first prior hardships of unemployment. As I was passed so many judgments and “supposedly-feel-good” advices.

Thus, it seemed fitting that society today measures “Quality” on the basis of Quantified exposures. We see this through “votes”. Politics. And epidemiological science (newsflash! Saturated fats cause heart disease)

Far damagingly I’d wager is how our (current norms) use this bias as means to motivate. “Look at <famous people here> Do what they do!”  . “Cheer up! Just focus on the positive.” Yeah right. Simply  being “positive” helps. Subjectivities were not accounted for. “They” are not me. And “I” am not “them”. Their time, their hours – are not mine. Yet they have the audacity to preach in form of recycled “lessons”, quotes, and statements

I have yet to this day in my life and career ever laid a word of simplistic judgements on people. At all. Yet ironically I am the punching bag receiving the most “opinions” and “judgments”. 

“Ha! What about all your quotation posters that you did! YOU DO FOLLOW ICONS, FAMOUS PEOPLE AND ALL!”

Consider the emotional output differences between them, and that of your motivational posters google search on 1st page. 

Are they Reflectional? or are they MotivationalLet’s examine the differences.

Type 1/2

Motive. “Mo-tive”-ational quote statements.

Unsplash.com / Matthew Smith

Motivations are never arbitrary.

Motives are drawn by inner desire to have an “epi” or “on-top” of unmarked further gesture. This is likely inspirational quote/s that strikes purely for your objectivism pursuits. And likely to be “simplified”in a metaphorical sense that it tries to hide the subjective complexity behind it.

  • “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”  – Paradise Lost.
  • “Greed; for the lack of the better word – is good.” – Gordon Gekko.
  • “Be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy.” – Warren Buffet.

Look and listen closely around you and you’ll note similar patterns from everyday conversations. Either through friends (“real” or numbered.)Coworkers, and bosses. Notice how egocentric or “closed-in” these advices go:

  • “Cheer up! Never ever give up.”
  • “Seek and you shall find.”
  • “When one door closes, another door opens.”
  • “There is always someone who is worser than you. Suck it up.”

Examine the word motive itself. Mo-tive is “Mo-tion” or at least, a visual, end-process evidence of “movement”. Therefore in order to “move”, you need an objective leverageWhat “MOVES” you after all; IS what motivates you. Where’s the reflectional understanding of its’ PROCESS? Nothing. You are MOVED simply because of the alluring outcome. 

Sadly, society today favours Quantified, survivorship figureheads of “Success”. Curated handily amongst only the first two or three pages of search engines. 

To be successful is to be happy. Hence another cringeworthy throwaway line “Do what makes you happy”. I believe there are potentially multiple “Bill Gates”, “Warren Buffet”, “Robert Kiyosaki”, “Steve Jobs” out there. Ably proclaiming to the same “Happy” outcomes. But with chaotically different processes, and contexts. Some may not even be alive. They just aren’t being exposed or “survived” in first two pages of Google or Youtube.

Now compare to that with what I consider “Reflectional” statements.

Type 2/2

Reflect. “Re-flect”-tional.

Andrew E Weber / tookapic.com

Reflectional quotes are those that do not speak in any linear outcomes. Interpretively “flexible”. Each neither dictates for objectivist or intrinsic egoism. See if these quote/s below ever dictates you have to do things exactly in “this” way. Or “that” way only.

  • “There are no facts. Only interpretations.” – Friedrich Nietsche.
  • “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates.
  • “99 percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller.
  • “Thinking is difficult. That is why people judge.” – Carl Gustav Jung.

These I argue as more emotively arresting, and relevant for self-reflections. Each encourages you to distinguish  between what is “excess” and what is “absent”. What do I mean by this? We have to examine the trait “ego”.

“Ego” (as I define earlier)  is the excess on whatever is obsessed. It is an excess of the explicit (influence, evidence, territory, strategy, vigour, honour, valour, victories/triumphs). As well as an abscence of the implicit (realisations, acceptances, essence, humility, and understanding)

Again, “explicit vs implicit” sounds fittingly similar to the Survivorship Bias theory. After all we are incessantly drawn to the outcomes (Explicit) more than their progress (Implicit).

Hence, I argue the Reflectional statements are more attune to reality. Because each simply reminds you that nothing in life is black or white. Best of all? There is no linear glamourisation of any “survivorship” preachery.

You might think, “If everything is shades of grey, then we should all be “gloomy” then?”

It is easy to think that Negativity is anti-thesis to Motivation. However “Negativity” to me is a spring of consistent awarenesses and realisations. “Positivity” is only skin, the temporary result – of bliss.

To be happy is to be willingly accountable for sadness. So “Negativity”… is actually a good thing. Crucial. Inseparable, I’d wager.

How or what does this “being negative” have to do with Survivorship Bias? Being survivor to me is nothing to do with being “happy”. It is about accountably and resourcefully able at shouldering whatever it takes to be happy.

Fair enough. I am never gifted a genetic outlier for being tanned or tall. Or that I am more than likely unable to provide enough leverages to keep a woman happy. Despite all of that, negativity is what keeps me Authentic. Why? Because it constantly rationalises me over what I can and cannot do.

After all, my body is the embodiment of failures and experiences I endured. The skin? Is merely the success that covers it. “Utility” afterall – is only skin deep. “Humility” is everything beneath the skin.

Other Cognitive Biases

“Survivorship Bias” is just one of many cognitive biases as encountered in the realm of Economics, politics, applied mathematics and statistical science. The list is not exhaustive, but Anchoring, Bandwagon Theory, Selective Perception amongst many others – nonetheless remain fascinating for one to read further.


How you would react to the above Phenomenon of Survivorship bias? Do you think all this is nonsense? Or has nothing thus far ever caused you to think such thing as being relevant to your day to day normalcy? Let me know what you think below!!

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