Survivorship Bias

🤔 Did you know…

If you spend much time scrolling through Twitter or LinkedIn…

You may begin to think that everyone is running a 7-figure business or growing their audience lightning fast.

(They’re not)

What’s actually happening is far less exciting…

Special offers for you from our sponsor Hotjar and insightIQ ❤️

​​Get deeeeeep inside your buyers’ heads with Hotjar’s upcoming webinar 🕵️‍♀️

Sometimes a survey won’t cut it. If you’re struggling with slow growth, high churn, or attracting bad-fit customers, you need to talk to users to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it. 1:1 user interviews are the BEST way to get deep insight… but getting started is intimidating. Attend Hotjar’s upcoming webinar and take the guesswork out of talking to users.

→ Register for free webinar and rock your next user interview 

Do influencer marketing the smart way with insightIQ 🤓

You know influencer marketing works. Yet finding the perfect partners—the ones with high-intent audiences—often feels like a gamble. insightIQ helps 3x your ROI from partnerships by unveiling the best influencers for your brand among 250M+ profiles. It’s time to turn your influencer marketing into a science. Your CEO will thank you.

→ Book a demo & get 1 month free
(Exclusively for Why We Buy 🧠 readers)

Pre. S. Today’s issue is a little different. Rather than exploring a concept from behavioural science and sharing how to apply it in your marketing, we’ll look at how you can apply it personally to reach your goals and learn more from failures. I hope you enjoy it.

Imagine this…

You’re on your lunch break scrolling TikTok.

You come across an influencer who tells you the secret to business success is just starting.

They tell you that the most important thing they ever did was quit their job and go all in on their passion project. They didn’t have a dollar to their name… but they worked hard and made it happen.

And that leap of faith turned into a $30 million dollar acquisition 5 years later.

The time is ticking down on your lunch break. You’re frustrated.

“I don’t want to have to go back to work when somebody tells me,” you think. “If this person can pull it off then I can too.”

You decide to take one final scroll before you start work again.

The next video hits you with a stat that startles you.

“Did you know that 90% of businesses fail?!”

Hmm. That number seems unrealistically high, right? Based on what you see on social media, lots of entrepreneurs are thriving.

Which video do you choose to believe?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at the Survivorship Bias — why we overestimate the likelihood of success when we only focus on the success stories.

Let’s get into it.

The Psychology of Survivorship Bias🧠

Our minds aren’t great at categorizing a fluke outcome as… a fluke.

We’re more likely to think that outcome happens often versus realizing that it may be an outlier.

The most famous research study on Survivorship Bias comes from the World War II statistician Abraham Wald.

His research group was in charge of figuring out how to make the WWII planes less likely to be shot down.

The initial approach analyzed the damage to the planes that returned from battle with the plan to reinforce the areas that were hit the most.

But Abraham realized this was actually the complete opposite approach they should use. The team had accidentally taken a fork in the road toward Survivorship Bias.

By changing their focus to reinforce the most vulnerable parts of the planes that were causing them to go down in battle, they were able to create better planes.

Inside Your Mind🧐

You’re getting pummeled with success stories all day.

One scroll through Twitter will have you thinking that everybody and their grandma has built a 7+ figure business, grown a 100K social media following, or lost 30 lbs in 30 days.

And of course the people who have achieved those results will gladly share their secrets with you… for a fee.

Oftentimes what you’re seeing are often the outliers. Not the reality.

If you’re not careful, Survivorship Bias can wreak havoc on your self-esteem.

But it’s not all bad. As with many things, understanding our bias to focus on success stories can be useful when channelled in the right direction.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can you apply this right now to sell more achieve more of your goals?

Think critically about the success stories you see (and dig into the backstories)

Our bias for focusing on success stories can skew our perception of reality. Before you start a new project or venture, do your homework first. For instance, newsletter media companies are very sexy right now. There are plenty of success stories to inspire you…

Shaan Puri built Milkroad to +100k readers and sold it for (a rumoured) $10M in less than a year. Zain Kahn is the founder of Superhuman, the fastest growing AI newsletter in the world. He built Superhuman into a 7-figure business lightning fast.

If you look at these success stories in isolation then you may assume that starting a newsletter is the fastest path to riches. But when you dig into Shaan and Zain’s backstories you see that both started with huge advantages.

Shaan was independently wealthy from past business ventures, which meant he could self-fund Milkroad’s fast growth. And Zain was an experienced marketing exec who spent 3-years pouring almost all his time and energy into audience building. He grew his LinkedIn and Twitter following to over 700,000 people before launching Superhuman.

Both are incredible entrepreneurs who have earned every ounce of their success, but without digging into their backstories you may wrongly conclude that “newsletters are easy businesses”. (Believe me, they’re not.)

Do a post-mortem when a project fails

Failure is inevitable (despite what Survivorship Bias may lead you to believe). When a project goes off the rails, don’t just sulk for a bit and then move on—learn from it.

A “post-mortem” is a structured process for examining a project and extracting lessons you can apply in the future. After my tech startup failed, I conducted a post-mortem by asking myself a series of questions like:

  • What were the main impediments or roadblocks we encountered?
  • Did we make any assumptions that proved to be untrue?
  • Were there any skill gaps within the team?
  • Did we accurately forecast the resources we’d need to be successful?
  • Were there any missed opportunities or alternative approaches that could have been explored?

Surprisingly, it was actually a very cathartic experience. We couldn’t change what happened but having more clarity on the issues that led to our failure has helped me tremendously in my current business.

If you’re curious, I shared a bit more of my own failure backstory in a recent LinkedIn post

Embrace delegation

Be realistic AND relentlessly optimistic

People have much more to gain from sharing their success stories than chronicling their failures, so those are the stories we see most often. Once you learn about Survivorship Bias, you’ll notice it everywhere. That said, resist the urge to become a cynic. Success is possible.

You can build a 7-figure business or lose 30 lbs (though you probably shouldn’t try to do it in 30 days). People achieve goals like these every day. Are those people outliers? Sure, but the people who win are the ones who believe success is possible. The opposite is also true. Behavioral scientists call this the Galatea Effect.

Be a realistic optimist. As Thomas Friedman famously said,

Embrace delegation

The Short of It 💥

Survivorship Bias is real. Once you understand it and see how it works, you can make better decisions. I hope you’ll also be a bit kinder to yourself.

That’s all for today.

What did you think of today’s special issue?

Love it? Hate it? Hit reply and let me know.

Until next time, happy selling growing.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

Success is the outlier.

Failures are the most common outcome.

Studying what’s most likely to happen will get you further than only focusing on what might happen.

Spend more time figuring out what traps are heading your way than potential accolades.

Cc: @KateBour

Tweet this now > 



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

There are a few ways we can help:

  • Get explosive clarity on what works with buyers with Clarity Calls
  • Build an audience that builds your business. Join the waitlist for the next cohort of the Un-ignorable Challenge (starting October 11th)
  • Apply to sponsor Why We Buy (next opening in Q4)

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

Related Posts



Let’s explore Tinder—the $42 billion giant that revolutionized dating for a generation.

Messenger Effect

Messenger Effect

Let’s explore the Messenger Effect—why we’re more likely to pay attention to a message when someone we trust delivers it.



Let’s explore LEGO— the Denmark toy company that became the largest toy seller in the world.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Let’s explore the Dunning-Kruger Effect—why we tend to overestimate our competence when taking on new tasks.



Let’s explore Framing—why we’re influenced by the way information is presented.



Let’s explore Scarcity—why we want something more when there’s less of it.

Fresh Start Effect

Fresh Start Effect

Let’s explore the Fresh Start Effect—why we have more motivation to start a new habit at the beginning of a new time period.



Let’s explore Reciprocity—why we feel compelled to return favors.

Blemishing Effect

Blemishing Effect

Let’s explore the Blemishing Effect—why we are more likely to believe positive information when a little negative information is added into the mix.





Wanna get inside your buyer’s head? Join our newsletter and get one customer psychology tip delivered straight to your inbox each week. It’s like a 2-min workout for your brain.

You're in. Giddy up! 🤠

Become the go-to customer EXPERT

If you can figure out what makes people tick, click and buy, you can make bank

We’re often asked if we offer a certification program teaching our in-depth research methods. The answer is… not yet. But we’re working on it.

Want first dibs when we launch our new certification program? Jump on the waitlist.

You're in. Giddy up 🤠


Wanna get inside your buyer’s head? Join our newsletter and get one buyer psychology tip delivered to your inbox each week. It’s like a 2-min workout for your brain.

You're in!


If you can figure out what makes people tick, click and buy, you can make big $$$. We're working on a new research certification program. Want first dibs when we launch it? Hop on the waitlist.

You're in!


Wanna get the buyer insights you need from key stakeholders (and look like a boss)? Our new Stakeholder Mining Kick-off Session training is coming soon. Join the waitlist to get first dibs.

You're on the waitlist! We'll reach out soon!


Wanna get the buyer insights you need from key stakeholders (and look like a boss)? Our new Stakeholder Mining Kick-off Session training is coming soon. Join the waitlist to get first dibs.

You're in!