14 August 2014

With Each Failure You Are Closer to Success: You Are an Idiot, but at Least You Are Happy

If you believe that with each failure / rejection you are one step closer to success, you are an idiot, but a hopeful and occasionally happy one.

You probably learned that one in ten sales calls / businesses (put anything here) succeeds. Moreover, the Motivational Guru / Witch / voodoo priest you gave money to told you that if you failed / didn’t make the sale, you should not worry too much because now, after a failure, you are closer to a success.

Isn’t this cute!?  It makes sense, right? If one in ten attempts is successful, then if you failed, you are closer to the successful attempt.

NO! If you believe this bullshit you deserve your fate of paying crooks to sell you illusions.

Saying that one in ten attempts is successful is a way of framing information in such a way that your lazy brain kind of gets it. What that piece of information means is that when doing something there is an overall 0.1 probability of success. This, however, doesn’t mean that each and every tenth attempt is successful.

Let’s turn things around a bit. Assuming you need a surgery, the doctor tells you that there is a 99% chance that the surgery will be successful and you’ll make a full recovery. This sounds really nice, right?

What if the doctor will tell you that until now the team operated successfully 99 patients and you are lucky number 100? Does this mean that for sure you will die during the surgery?

It is exactly the same logic as in “with each failure you are closer to success”.

Playing the lottery each and every week for one year gives you a slightly better chance of winning once than if you would have played only once a year; though, even playing each and every week offers still a very low chance of winning.

Just to give you a numerical view: playing the lottery once gives you a chance of 1 in 16.000.000 (sixteen million) of winning. Playing it each week for one year gives you a chance of 52 in 16.000.000 of winning once. Not much of a difference, actually (numbers are approximations for the Romanian main lottery).

However, if you played the lottery last week and didn’t win, your chances of winning the lottery this week are not any better than they were last week or the week before that or even winning it next week.

With each failure you are at best as far away from a success as before. If there is no causality involved, after a failure your chances of success are the same as before. If, however, there is causality, your chances of success are even slimmer.

Assuming that it is true that overall there is a 10% chance of success in an endeavour (read sales call if you can’t think in abstract terms), the information tells us something about a large and diverse population. It does not refer to YOU. It may very well be that you are special (most likely not in a good way). An overall 10% chance of success does not necessarily mean that YOU have 10% chance of succeeding. Sometimes there are good reasons why one fails. It might very well be that your sales pitch/ business plan or whatever is bad, flawed or it simply sucks. Trying over and over the same thing that is flawed (or just sucks) does not increase your chance of success more than playing the lottery weekly does increase one’s chance of winning it.

If anything, the fact that you have failed several times should tell you that it’s likely that there is something wrong with what you’re doing.

With every additional failure you are, in fact, further from success!

But, if you believe that trying over and over again will bring you success, that perseverance is a virtue and that all you need is to keep yourself motivated and eventually you will succeed, then you will think that I’m the idiot and not you.

Ignorance is bliss! Luckily, Stupidity comes with ignorance as a bonus feature.

P.S. I’m even a bigger idiot because I’m trying to explain these phenomena instead of telling you what you want to hear and selling you illusions for only 9.99$/€.

1 comment:

3spinestickleback2 said...

Yeah, I also noticed that most people don't understand what probabilities are. With Lotteries we deal with probabilities, with most other things not. The 9 out of 10 that failed, did so because their activity (whatever it was) was worse than that of the 1 in 10 winners (given some error and bias). A couple of years ago there were bill boards in Amsterdam (for an insurance company?) saying things like "the chances you are getting married today are 0.01%" (I forgot what % they mentioned). I hated it, because I was 100% sure that the chance was actually 0% that I was going to get married that day. What they meant to say was "1 in 10.000 readers of this bill board will get married today". But it wasn't as if all readers were playing in a lottery and then having a 0.01% probability of drawing the prize of getting married today. According to a test I did a couple of years ago, only 16 out of 100,000 people have a higher IQ than I have. There is a bigger chance of finding those people at Universities than for example at the checkout of the local store... so please don't have bill boards saying "you have a 0.016% chance of having an IQ higher than 154".