The Phaserl


The Unknown Unknowns and Survivor Bias

Survivorship bias helps us understand why success stories are not what actually helps us succeed.

by Charles H. Smith, Of Two Minds:

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is famous for uttering a koan-like description of the epistomological ambiguity of human experience:

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.

(Interestingly, it appears Rumsfeld did not pen the koan himself; correspondent J.S.S. noted that the original source may be Landmark Education of Seattle, Washington.)

I recently read two fascinating accounts of why we have such a difficult time knowing what we don’t know: it’s called survivor bias
, and what that means is we only get information from the survivors, not those who perished and vanished from the records.

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