We are talking about Survivorship Bias. That we only see the ones that survive, and we do not see the potentially magnitudes-greater number of the ones that die. The most famous example is of the WW2 fighter planes that survived, with certain parts showing significant damage; instead of beefing up the damaged parts, the right answer was to beef up the undamaged parts.

We manifest survivorship bias in looking at startups, people, and more generally “playbooks” that show us how to exactly replicate successful precedents. The only problem is that replication is a scarcity game. The same methods will yield the same results from the same pool. Every person is different with different perspectives and different experiences. And every startup grinded their way to success in their own way in their specific environment. No playbook is going to work exactly the same for you.

Better to look closely at the ones that die, figure out what we can learn from them. There are a million ways to live but almost certain ways to die. If we can just avoid death, then inevitably luck and the magic of life will see us through. I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute. What kills others may not kill you; different people different environments, right? The same argument goes the other way.” And that’s fair. We can certainly find instances of fatal moves not affecting others the same way. There just aren’t nearly as many. How many people can claim the raw intelligence and work ethic of Elon Musk? And how many more people have unfulfilled dreams because they dawdled in their fantasies? Avoid the pitfalls of almost certain death and we live that many more days to try making our dreams come true.

And this is not to say we should only be worrying about the negatives; while staying alive only increases our chances for success, merely staying alive can be tortuous and ultimately unworthy. We must still learn and experiment towards success with the positives. The idea is that out of the infinite ways to succeed, a few of them will work for us, and we must stay alive long enough to find them. We must play the abundance game.