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Survivorship Bias and Your Blog

street-photography-facepalm

Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5

Follow your dreams. Never give up. We only fail when we quit.

Etc.

How many people do you know have started a blog? And how many of them are still blogging today?

Having spent time in the relevant circles, I can point to a fair few travel blogs I’ve seen started and abandoned.

For some people, this is fair enough. Once the trip is over, what is there to blog about?

For others, it seems like they just didn’t want to blog anymore, despite still being on the road.

So why did they begin in the first place?

I can’t say.

But I can guess the idea of emulating other successful travel writers – be they writers of blogs or books or both, and with successful being subjective of course – was high in their thinking.

It’s easy to look at the few who made it in a given field and think we can too. We all do it when starting out.

What’s harder, and something few of us do, is looking at the masses who failed and accepting the probability that we’ll ape them instead.

This skewing of our perceptions, this overestimation of our chances of making it, is survivorship bias at play, and it’s a slap in the face we creatives could all benefit from allowing ourselves to receive.

Getting a more accurate picture of how likely it is we’ll succeed and shifting our sights or plans accordingly can only be a good thing.

Why is survivorship bias so prevalent?

Because nobody is interested in projects that fail unspectacularly.

Not the media, not the general public, not you, and certainly not me. We all know about the success of Facebook. We all know about the fall of Myspace.

Ever heard of Eons though?

I hadn’t until researching an example of an unspectacular failure for this paragraph.

street-photography-closed-shop

Not seeing the ashes of those who failed unspectacularly isn’t the fault of those who want to succeed. Not when the successes and noteworthy falls are all we get told about.

But if you want to see the real odds of your project making it, you need to be aware of how many have vanished without trace before you.

Unfortunately, in a world where URLs lapse, websites are deleted, and Google is reluctant to take us to bad websites, it isn’t always easy for new bloggers to visit the cemetery, as Rolf Dobelli puts it in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly.

So how about some vague statistics, for a bit of context.

  • there are thought to be over 150 million blogs online
  • most people quit blogging within 3 months

Now, how many blogs do you subscribe to or even read yourself?

And how long are you willing to give yours if it goes slower than you expect?

What now are the odds of your travel blog making you the next Kerouac, exactly?

How you and your blog can negate survivorship bias

By choosing to survive.

When you look at other examples of survivorship bias in action, a lot of those who made it in their field needed someone to validate them.

Countless faceless-and-almost-chanceless people with guitars try to be Jimi Hendrix only because someone with the power to give Jimi Hendrix a platform did so.

He got signed.

From musicians to artists and sportspeople to actors, many of the world’s greatest performers only made it once someone else decided they could.

You and your blog are different because you control the game.

You don’t need any one person to validate your work.

You actually need a lot more than that, but that’s why it’s all in your hands – because the number of gatekeepers is far higher.

What’s a traditional author to do if none of the 10 reachable editors will read his manuscript?

Whereas the pool for you to find your 1000 true fans is now hundreds of millions deep.

street-photography-two-doors

For every person that doesn’t like what you create, there are countless others who just might.

Yeah, your blog is 1 in 150 million and counting. But so is this one and you’re still reading it. I don’t do anything special. I just write things and publish them.

Don’t quit your blog after 3 months of minimal engagement. They’re the ones nobody reads.

Survivorship bias might skew your idea of how easy blogging success is before you start, but it can go some way to explaining why so many others fail.

Because they didn’t see it coming and it sucks away their morale when they realise it’s a thing. Perhaps in that way it’s kind of self-fulfilling.

Be aware of it as early as you can be and use it as motivation to keep going with your blog.

Your blog only fails when you decide it has done.

This means you have the power to negate survivorship bias simply by choosing to survive when millions of others don’t.

Keep shooting, keep posting, and keep telling people about it.

If you want to learn more about how common cognitive biases are affecting our everyday lives, from simple decision making to our creative output, I recommend picking up The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli.

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Don't let survivorship bias distort how likely you think it is you'll succeed. It's a dangerous thing, but you can come see one way to avoid it here.

 

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