When you listen to the stories of the world’s richest and most successful people, you usually hear about the risks they took, their passion for business and their ongoing motivation to achieve anything.
We may enjoy these stories, but there is not much point reading too far into them. That’s because these stories, like most, are told with the bias of the storyteller. Therefore, we only get to see what is believed to have made the individual successful, ignoring all of the silent evidence.
Silent evidence usually refers to the information that is overlooked by humans because we have the tendency to only consider and accept the information that is presented to us.
Let’s look at Bill Gates for example. Gates is most notably known for building one of the biggest software empires in the world. When he was just 20 years old, Gates started Microsoft with his friend, Paul Allen. The two college nerds saw an opportunity when the world’s first microcomputer kit, the Altair 8080, was launched. Gates called the company that produced the microcomputer (MITS) and told them that they had developed an operating system for it. MITS wanted to meet.
What MITS didn’t know was that Gates and Allen had not developed an operating system for the Altair, nor did they own one. After 8 weeks of intensive work the operating system was developed and presented to MITS, who in turn struck a deal to buy the rights.
At such a young age, Gates had the courage to drop out of one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, chase an opportunity in the new home computing market and start a small software company.
What a lot of people don’t know about Gates’ story is that already at the age of 20 he had just as much if not more experience as a computer programmer than most professionals in America.
When Gates was 13 he was lucky enough to gain access to an ASR-33 Teletype, which was a time-sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer. This was a machine that was only released three years earlier. Up until then, universities and business were using computer-card systems.
Gates spent every available waking hour on computers for the next seven years. This experience meant that he clearly understood the computer market and could see what microcomputers meant for the world.
Gates’ risk has clearly paid off. But, as we can see, his risky move was backed by seven years of experience. The silent evidence that we don’t look at is how many people saw an opportunity, dropped out of high school, started a company and failed. I can only imagine that the number would be in the millions.
So what happened to all of the people who failed? Why did they fail? Are they successful now? These are the stories that we could really learn from, but they are almost nowhere to be found.
Rather than purely focusing on the attributes of the successful (risk, courage, motivation, experience), we should also look at the people who had the same “success attributes” and failed.
If we could teach ourselves to see beyond these biases and uncover the silent evidence, our society as a whole would reshape itself significantly. If we had all been conditioned to look at the silent evidence, would we have had the most recent global financial crisis?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that stories of success and optimism should be ignored; we need them as they help to motivate us. I only suggest that we should not simply believe that doing such things as becoming a billionaire can actually be achieved in tens steps or less. We must look beyond the information that is presented (or marketed) to us and dig deeper into the causality.
Matt Leeburn is co-founder and Managing Director of Interaction Dynamics and Click Logic. He has extensive experience in new business development, marketing and digital strategy. Follow him on Twitter @intdynamics.