The Frame of Success – a Survivorship bias?

by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

Everyone prays to have children – at least in our culture, but once we have them, we abscond, by and large, for providing the prerequisite parental guidance and role modelling that is desirable in order to have a well rounded decent personality.

The generation that did not see it all, are wrongly living their squandered life through their children by allowing them access to more material than they can possibly consume. In fact, many practices are now the norm, such as, for instance, feeding only when watching YouTube, not guiding about basic manners and conduct albeit softly, under the pretext that children at such and such an age are not supposed to be disrupted. All these factors then aggregate into later life issues that beg correction, but quite unfortunately lead to anti social and anti relationship behaviours, or in worst case scenarios, a total withdrawal from society because they feel they do not fit in.

But one succinct problem created by parents is that of pegging the value of success to role models and ideal outcomes on based on prominence and publicity. For instance telling your child you want him to be like Bill Gates, is more often a statement that may not be achievable to follow to the letter. For one, Mr Gates had his own life path and that in no way determines the complete outcome of his life today, without considering other mitigating factors. Also, even if another person were to have a very starkly identical life as his, chances that both would be included in Fortune 500 are remote. The negative impact that we then creat by pegging success to a celebrity on the child, is even worse.

As young people are maturing into adulthood, they need guidance from their own parents, and when this is not forthcoming, they are most likely going to pick and choose their own role model from people around them, those they adore. If they are lucky, then they end up in a good place, otherwise they try to attain his position at any cost. As a case in point, when the family keeps talking about the value of money and the lack thereof amongst tem, they are slowly driving the child to go out and assist, and then so doing without guidance and support, usually destroys the line between morality and what is immoral, for the main goal is to rid the family of the adversity. later, when things do go his way, and prosperity is spread across the board, if the family applauds this, then reinforcement occurs and the vicious cycle continues.

James Clear, in his ‘5 Common mential errors…’ writes, “Nearly every popular online media outlet is filled with survivorship bias these days. Anywhere you see articles with titles like “8 Things Successful People Do Everyday” or “The Best Advice Richard Branson Ever Received” or “How LeBron James Trains in the Off-Season” you are seeing survivorship bias in action.

Survivorship bias refers to our tendency to focus on the winners in a particular area and try to learn from them while completely forgetting about the losers who are employing the same strategy.

There might be thousands of athletes who train in a very similar way to LeBron James, but never made it to the NBA. The problem is nobody hears about the thousands of athletes who never made it to the top. We only hear from the people who survive. We mistakenly overvalue the strategies, tactics, and advice of one survivor while ignoring the fact that the same strategies, tactics, and advice didn’t work for most people.

Another example: “Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school and became billionaires! You don’t need school to succeed. Entrepreneurs just need to stop wasting time in class and get started.”

It’s entirely possible that Richard Branson succeeded in spite of his path and not because of it. For every Branson, Gates, and Zuckerberg, there are thousands of other entrepreneurs with failed projects, debt-heavy bank accounts, and half-finished degrees. Survivorship bias isn’t merely saying that a strategy may not work well for you, it’s also saying that we don’t really know if the strategy works well at all.

When the winners are remembered and the losers are forgotten it becomes very difficult to say if a particular strategy leads to success.”

And here is where a society’s main challenge lies. Prominence comes to those who make it, but lessons are usually learnt from the lives and efforts of those who didn’t make it, but struggled with their best efforts. In only recalling the feat of the victors, which by the way may have happened due to a host of facilitating factors, is to disregard the efforts and initiatives of the others, who did not succeed.

As a community bracing for a new era of connectedness, global citizenship and fast-paced replacement of old culture with a new one, we must celebrate all kinds of people and events, and remember that if we want future generations to succeed, we must also show them the rigorous path that eliminates many brave soldiers in its wake. Having survivorship bias is easy and comes naturally, but good parenting must fight that.

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About the author

Mohamedarif is a marketing professional and educationalist with a penchant for writing as a hobby since childhood. As he experimented writing about sporting events at first and then current affairs, he quickly developed a skill for observation of his environment and began to write on reform topics, especially in connection with the community. To further feed his pursuit of writing, he founded several newsletters and bulletins at his school and at the Husayni Madrasah in the 1980's, all the time learning from others already in the field not just about writing, but also about pre-press and production processes. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Knowledge Magazine in 1995–1996. A decade later, importing a flurry of ideas into his new home, Nairobi, he first founded a two page community newspaper then became a regular writer of the Friday Faculty before establishing the Community on Friday, a fully fledged Madrasah magazine in 1996. And while his writing at the community continued, he simultaneously started writing for a business weekly, pairing in with his newfound role as a marketing professional. During his time in Nairobi, he wrote several speeches for sitting chairmen and presidents while also giving some himself, developing his concurrent role as a public speaker and trainer.

With changing times and a decrease in advertising sponsorship, as well as a fall in overall readership, Mohamedarif transformed this publication into an electronic blog. Thus was born the Community on Friday in its present format.

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