They call it survivor bias. It’s the reason why people tend to underestimate risks and overestimate chances for success. The concept is simple. In any high risk adventure, you typically do not interview people who died trying the activity. As far as I know this is not done :). So the people we speak to are just those who survived. And hence the bias. There are lots of examples of this outside of daredevil sports or high risk adventures. For example, in finance people rarely interview those who were high risk investors, lost their shirts and now are living in a cardboard box off Main street. So it is.
Survivor bias becomes relevant on my Kilimanjaro climb having to do with the summit climb, especially the last 200 meters from Stella Point to the peak. I have been asked whether I regret the climb through the blizzard, especially the last part which was particularly dangerous. And the automatic answer is that I don’t regret it. It was an amazing experience. That’s survivor bias at work. My guess is that had I died my answer would have been different. Get it?
The way I saw this bias at work was how my therapist, who really knows me inside and out asked me the following: was the last part of that climb reckless? And then I realized that reckless can be simply defined as the risks and consequences of failure way out-way the rewards/benefits. So I would weigh the consequences of a blizzard at almost 20,000 feet assisted by a guide who had never experienced this before with the fact that I have a wonderful life with wife, kids, grandkids etc. I have to answer truthfully that it was reckless. But I survived so one could say that I beat (this time) the house odds. I was reckless and lucky. That is an honest appraisal and I will consider this in future choices of vacations :).
I will also pay closer attention to this in other areas of life. Survivor bias can easily camouflage serious risks in certain type of projects and processes. Thank you Kili for giving me this insight.
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