The survivorship bias – Why copying successful people might not be a good idea

The survivorship bias – Why copying successful people might not be a good idea

“The 7 habits of multi-millionaires”, many articles and books have titles such as these. Be careful however, before you start copying the habits and traits of millionaire’s consider the survivorship bias.

The survivorship bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that survived some process and inadvertently overlooking those that did not because of their lack of visibility.

For example, the survivorship bias pulls us towards the billion-dollar founder. We look for the character traits that made them successful to copy and use in our own lives. We tend to overlook the people who had the same character traits but failed, they don’t make good stories. As a result, the difference between success and failure becomes invisible.

A story from a college dropout earning millions might not motivate you to finish university. However, talking to all the college dropouts who struggle to make a living might change your perspective. They will tell what not to do: drop out.

Because we only read about people who reached stardom against all odds we overestimate our own chances of building a billion-dollar company. We tend to forget that Mark Zuckerberg only represents a tiny part of a big population.

In the book Fooled by Randomness, Nassim Taleb gives another example of the survivorship bias. A group of traders follows a strategy that is no better than random. As a result 50% will have a good year and 50% will have a bad year. Only 25% of the traders will have two good years in a row, and 3% will have made money every year for 5 years straight. It is important to realize that those who belong to the 3% did not achieve this because of their skill; it is purely due to chance. When we read about an investment fund that is profitable for 5 consecutive years we think they must be great. We forget that there are many more funds and that we only read about the successful ones. The reality is that their good results are completely random, pure luck.

What makes a person or business a success? Did Facebook become a billion-dollar company because of their business model, Zuckerbergs’ habits or another reason? Since we can’t go back in time and start the company a 100 times over we cannot know what made the company so successful. This is the reason that we cannot take “The 7 habits of multi-millionaires” too seriously.

Finally, in the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oilver Burkeman gives a great example why you can’t simply copy the habits of a successful person and expect an improvement in our own life.

A study showed that extremely successful entrepreneurs share two traits: they are willing to persevere in the face of setbacks and they possess enough charisma to convince others to follow them. However, these same traits are also likely the characteristics of extremely unsuccessful people: to lose a lot of money requires both persistence and the charisma to let other people invest in your failure.

The survivorship bias likely undermines “Tips From a Millionaire”, proceed with caution.

Beat procrastination by taking tiny steps

Beat procrastination by taking tiny steps

Procrastination is the enemy that keeps us from achieving our goals. Fortunately it can be beaten.

In the Kaizen article I argue that small continuous improvements, getting 1% better every day, leads to better long-term results than taking massive actions right from the start.

In this article I want show another benefit of taking tiny steps; it helps you to stop procrastinating.

While I am writing these lines many thoughts come to my mind. It is already 20:00 and if I want to watch a movie, and not go to bed too late, I should start now. Maybe I should read a book instead, that is more productive. Do I have a Whatsapp message? Everything comes to mind except continuing to work.

A year from now you may wish you have started today.
Karen Lamb

Procrastination does not win however. My only task left for the day is to finish this article as a draft. A small task compared to finishing the article, creating the graphs and uploading it.

We expect procrastination to show up when we start working on a new goal. Still we tend to overestimate ourselves and believe that we can beat it quite easily until the goal is reached.

We expect:


The graph shows the level of procrastination when we set a medium difficult goal and our expected ability to beat it. In this scenario we always ‘win’, we can achieve everything we want, great! Unfortunately that is not the reality.

In the first few days, when our motivation is high, we can beat procrastination easily. However set backs happen or our motivation goes down over time, and that is when procrastination gets the best of us.

Our ability to beat procrastination goes up and down.



We beat procrastination sometimes and sometimes it gets the best of us. This scenario might not seem to bad, but there is danger. When procrastination gets the best of us for too long we often give up on our goal all together.

How can we beat procrastination more often?

By setting an easier task.

Since an easy task takes less energy to complete the procrastination level goes down significantly. When our ability to beat procrastination remains the same we come out ahead more often as you can see on the graph below.


With an easy task we almost always beat procrastination, having many little wins during the day. An easy task might not seem to get you far but all these tiny steps add up quickly. We make a lot more progress than if procrastination gets the best of us and we give up.

Tiny steps add up to become big changes. Consider setting easy tasks to achieve during the day, this will make you win in the long run.

A plus, a minus and an equal – A framework for learning

A plus, a minus and an equal – A framework for learning

The mixed martial arts multi-title champion Frank Shamrock has a system to train fighters. According to him you need a plus, a minus and an equal to become great.

Plus: Work with someone who is better than you. Somebody who is at the cutting edge of development in the skill you want to improve. From them you learn.

Minus: Find someone who is less skilled than you. You can teach them your new learned skills. The best way to learn is to teach it.

Equals: Find someone who has the same qualities as you. Against this person you can push yourself to the limit.

This system is not only used to train athletes, companies also use it. When I worked in in London there was an expert who taught me new skills, peers in my group who I could have discussions with and after a few months new colleagues who I could train.

I find it a great, simple concept that I will apply to many areas of my life.

Read more about Franck Shamrock’s system and the mindset necessary to succeed as a student in Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

The concept of Kaizen

The concept of Kaizen

The concept of Kaizen changed my approach to self-development and the way I set goals.

Every year people set New Year’s resolutions such as reading more books. They take high intensity action immediately, reading 3 hours every day. The first days the motivation is high but after missing one day of reading all motivation is gone. The result is that they don’t touch a book for weeks. How much improvement did they make? Almost none.

While big actions are necessary to achieve your goals, setting big goals can overwhelm us. Consistently improving yourself is much more important.

Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency and creating the highest value. Kaizen literally means a change for the better.

In self-development the Kaizen philosophy is that you make small changes every day that will compound to the massive change you wanted.

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.
Bill Gates

At the start you might not even notice your daily 1% improvements when you compare yourself to someone who does not improve himself. However, over time the gap will be enormous!


When you compound 1% every day it will double every 72 days.

We all want instant gratification, to set a big goal and achieve it as soon as possible. However, following the concept of Kaizen will give you the best results long-term.

The four stages of learning

The four stages of learning

With every new skill you learn you go through four stages of learning before reaching mastery.

Going from incompetence to competence in a skill is often a slow and uncomfortable process. Understanding this theory will help you to deal better with the emotional ups and downs and helps you to guide others through their learning process.

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence

You don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, you might not be aware that you lack a certain skill. How do you open your blind spot? One way to find out what skill you need is to ask for feedback.


Stage 2: Conscious incompetence

The realization came that you are lacking a certain skill. This can be very frustrating. To advance through the learning process you need to study the subject and put your new learned skills into action.


Stage 3: Conscious competence

After studying and practicing you are somewhat decent at the skill. However it takes a lot of focus to execute the skill. At this stage a lot of people feel satisfied with the progress they made and the learning stops. That’s a shame. To reach mastery you need to keep practicing and learning.


Stage 4: Unconscious competence

This is the holy grail of learning. Without thinking you can execute a skill that first required all your attention. You mastered the skill!


Apply this framework to guide others through their learning process and to optimize your own.

Two life hacks to increase happiness

Two life hacks to increase happiness

Life hacks are tips that change your life for the better. I found two that I love to share with you.

Replace your alarm tone with a song. I changed the annoying *beep-beep-beep* sound to classical music. Now I have a relaxing start to the day instead of a stress moment.

Replace your password with a positive affirmation. Many studies and meditation practices emphasize the power that positive affirmations have on your life. Taking time to do them daily can be a chore. At home and work most of us have to type a password multiple times a day, change it to something positive. If you want to change a habit make it ILoveHealthyEating!. If you want to be motivated by a goal change it to Holiday@Bahamas!.

Over time these small changes create a positive impact without any extra effort. So why not incorporate these life hacks into your life today?

Grow your comfort zone

Grow your comfort zone

Motivation and momentum comes when there is progress in any area of our life. To achieve growth we have to put ourselves in the learning zone.

In any skill we practice we are in one of the three zones: the comfort zone, the learning zone or the panic zone.


Comfort zone: This is our safe haven. We can’t make progress staying here since it consists of abilities we have already mastered. The comfort zone looks different for everyone. Some people find public speaking easy and within their comfort zone while it puts others into the panic zone.

Learning zone: Here progress happens. The challenge we face requires new skills, but is not too difficult.

Panic zone: Learning is impossible. The task is too difficult and makes you anxious.

If you don’t make the progress you want the task is either too easy, keeping you in the comfort zone, or too difficult putting you in the panic zone. It is important to push yourself, but not to the extreme.

And when you are in the learning zone your comfort zone will grow as a result.

Are there any tasks you do without thinking about it that before would have stressed you out? Congratulations your comfort zone has grown.


A model to learn more efficiently

A model to learn more efficiently

We all want to make progress fast. However, mastering a skill takes time and the learning process has many (emotional) ups and downs.

For most of us becoming an expert takes at least 10.000 hours of practice. Many don’t reach that point; they become disillusioned and demotivated along the way.

Luckily there is a simple model to help you. The inchworm concept helps you to acquire skills faster and more efficient.

If you choose a skill and rate, honestly, all the decisions you made last month practicing that skill from -3 (terrible) to +3 (best) your graph would look like this:


The result is a bell-curved graph where the right side represents your best decisions and the left side your worst.

As you acquire new skills, in the learning zone, your best will get better: the graph stretches to the right.


When you are fresh and well rested you make your best decisions putting the new skills acquired in step 1 to use. Unfortunately that does not happen very often since peak performance takes a lot of energy.

To improve your skillset as a whole focus on fixing the terrible mistakes you make.


As a result the left side of the graph steps forward. In combination with step 1 the whole graph has moved forward. This is very important.


Imagine that in step 2 you did not focus on fixing your terrible mistakes. Instead you decided to add new skills again as you did in step 1.

The graph would look very stretched to the right while the left side remains in the same position.

At your best you are now even more amazing. However, when you perform solid or terrible you still make the same mistakes as before you learned the new skills.

This is extremely frustrating. Making terrible mistakes while you can be great is highly demotivating.

Luckily, in step 2 you improved your weakness before adding new skills following the philosophy of via negativa. With the whole graph having moved over to the right your mistakes will be smaller than before.

This saves frustration, which frees up mental space making it easier to improve your best again as shown below in step 3.


It can be tempting to only focus on improving your strengths; however improving your weakness will speed up your progress.

This simple concept can be used as a framework to structure your learning. The experience is more pleasant making it more likely that you reach mastery.

In the video below I explain the concept in more detail.

The consumption creation ratio

The consumption creation ratio

As an avid reader of books and podcast subscriber, the consumption creation ratio was a real eye-opener.

Consumption is easy, but consuming useful information is more difficult. Facebook, TV and the news are noise. Books, especially ones that stood the test of time, are signal.

Consuming signal instead of noise is a great first step, but that alone is not enough.

Information only becomes powerful when you use it.

You already know all you need to know to succeed. You don’t need to learn anything more. If all we needed was more information, everyone with an Internet connection would live in a mansion, have abs of steel, and be blissfully happy.
Darren Hardy, The Compound Effect.

I find that consumption still has its place, but the quote drives the point home.

Put knowledge into action before adding new books to the to-read list. Some ideas are to write a book or blog, teach, make a podcast or start a business.

This realization helped me to overcome a great frustration. When I was reading book after book at a high pace I found myself forgetting sections. Applying the new knowledge helped me to internalize the information much better.

I also found that starting projects without lots of research beforehand gives me a better understanding of the topic. It forces me to think creatively and come up with my own logic.

In addition, having my own ideas helps me to get more out of books and podcasts because now it is easier to understand details and read between the lines.

Decreasing input and increasing output is more difficult than the other way around, but I found it a lot more satisfying.

Are you a consumer or creator? At university you get a textbook and a workbook. Don’t forget to use a workbook later in life.