Survivorship Bias

Survivorship bias is the tendency to focus on the success stories and overlook the failures. It is a cognitive bias that occurs when we only consider the elements that have "survived" some selection process and overlook those that didn't. It's a subtle but powerful bias that can lead us to draw incorrect conclusions about the world and make poor decisions.

One of the most common examples of survivorship bias is in venture capital. When we hear about the companies that have "made it" - the unicorns, the billion-dollar exits - we tend to think that this is the norm. But what we don't see are the thousands of failed startups that never made it past the seed stage. This can lead VCs to overestimate their chances of success and pour money into risky ventures that are unlikely to yield returns.

Survivorship bias also affects group decision making. When a group is evaluating a decision, they tend to focus on the positive outcomes and overlook the negative ones. This can lead to a false sense of confidence in the decision and a failure to consider alternative options. Additionally, if the group is only presented with "survivors" of a previous decision, they may not have access to the full range of information needed to make a good decision.

Another way survivorship bias can impact group decision making is by skewing the way people perceive the distribution of talent. When only the successful people are visible, it can create an illusion of an over-representation of high-performing individuals. This can lead to a false sense of competition, setting unrealistic expectations and creating an environment where people feel inadequate or less likely to succeed.