Study Failures, Not Successes

December 10, 2012  

I recently attended a meeting where we were going to be taught the secrets of becoming a “7-figure” professional speaker.  That is, we would learn how to make $1,000,000 a year.  The presenter is part of an elite group of speakers who earn at least this much every year.  His presentation was based on the lessons extracted from this successful group.

In the audience, listening to him, were about 60 professional speakers, ranging in experience from novices to highly accomplished individuals.

He shared ideas like, “Be controversial; say things that others are not saying or are afraid to say,” or “Don’t just speak; have a process.”

Listening to these words of wisdom, I have to say what others were not saying or were afraid to say: “His premise on how to be successful is flawed.”

The truth is, he has no idea how he really got to where he is. He only thinks he does. And no, he was not intentionally being deceitful. Not at all. He was just not applying critical thinking to the process.

Here’s the mistaken logic of so many people…

If we study a lot of successful people (companies) we will know what to do in order to replicate their success.

This is faulty logic for so many reasons.

One reason is “the undersampling of failure.”

When trying to learn what to do, we study those who are successful. But we rarely study those who tried the same things yet were not successful in achieving the same outcome.

I bet if we studied the speakers who make more than a million dollars a year, we will find that all of them shower every day. We could potentially therefore conclude that showering is the key to making a lot of money. Although I suspect that if you never shower, it will indeed impact your success, I do not believe that showering will make you successful. Why? Because there are many people who also shower yet are not as successful.  This is the undersampling of failure.

For every million dollar speaker who “is controversial and says what others are afraid to say,” there are 100 who have done exactly that yet were not successful. But we never study the people who never made it, because we don’t know who they are (unless they were colossal failures).  Their “failures” were not sampled, and therefore we wrongly conclude that this attribute leads to success.

My latest book is called “Best Practices Are Stupid.”   The undersampling of failure is one of three reasons why it is dangerous to blindly follow what others do.

Any time you receive advice, be skeptical.  Any time you read a book, don’t follow blindly.  Any time you study a best practice, carefully consider if it is right for you and if it truly will give you the results you want.

P.S. My hypothesis of why he was really success will be shared in a later blog entry (and he confirmed it without coming out and directly saying it). It has to do with how to “manufacture serendipity” as a means of creating non-linear success. And to be fair, listening to the speaker, I did gather some nice tactics for improving my business that I will be implementing. I only questioned his premise on how to be successful.

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