Survivorship Bias: Don’t Judge a Plane by Its Wings

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 01, 2019

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Submitted: June 01, 2019

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Mathematician Abraham Wald owes the credit for the psychological term “Survivorship (or Survivor) Bias”. During World War ll, he was faced with a crucial task: to figure out which parts of bomber planes needed repair, in order to increase the chance of them returning to their base. Among the returning planes, the most damage was done to the wings and rear. Seems logical that these are the parts he should focus on, right?

Wald, nevertheless, considered the opposite approach. There were no returning planes with damaged engines or gas tanks. He suggested that such planes were simply unable to return to the base at all - therefore, meaning its the gas tanks/engines that deserve most vigilant reconstruction.

In life, it’s easy to fall into similar traps by seeing only half the puzzle (at best!), from our most comfortable angle or viewpoint. The challenge is - we never truly know if we have enough details. Keeping a lookout for knowledge and an open mind can benefit our identification of a solution.

Taking survivorship bias into consideration helps us turn around our vector as efficiently as possible when a brand new detail of knowledge is on the horizon. Sometimes it’s valuable to notice which strategies didn’t work, rather than which did. Blindly following another individual’s footsteps without regenerating the information leaves us with greater chances of failure.

It also can free us from making purely self-centered observations and choices. How many of you have ever been skeptical of a personal, social or global problem’s existence or plausibility, simply because it never affected you (your family, neighborhood, country) personally? True, it may not imprint as clearly in our minds, as we haven’t experienced or related to the issue. But someone else out there has felt it on their skin. Training empathy, understanding and compassion awakens the ability to consider/play with alternate perspectives, increasing flexibility of mind and sense of harmony with the world. We’re a part of it, all in one.

Recognition of survivorship bias and its real-life patterns is pivotal in building a progressive engine to navigate through life.


© Copyright 2019 Alexandra Layne. All rights reserved.

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