I was listening to Stern on the way in the other day and he had the graffiti artist David Choe who’s now worth an estimated $100-$200 MILLION because he spray-painted a wall at the Facebook headquarters and they’re going public. His stories were insane. The Facebook story isn’t his only compelling feat, the guy should really sell a movie about his life. Let me summarize a few highlights about his success:
- Becomes a degenerate gambler as a teenager and loses it all in Las Vegas in his early twenties.
- Comes up with a new gambling method (to him. We’ve all tried it and you still lose – but he was very lucky) and turns $500 into $1 Million over a few trips to Vegas.
- Fast forward to graffiti gig for Facebook. New company, some cash but not a ton. They offer to pay him in stock or take $60,000. As a degenerate gambler, he rolls the dice and takes the stock figuring it’s unlikely to pay off, but if it does, might be huge. He didn’t know anything about Facebook at the time.
- Fast forward a few years; Facebook files for IPO. Stake will be worth north of $100 Million
Along the way, he had all kinds of other tales about being captured by police in Asia for graffiti, girls, crazy stuff. Real colorful character. But long story short, he’s got this crazy story and now he’s mega-rich!
Doesn’t It Just Drive You Crazy?
When you hear an in-depth interview like that and you hear how random and simple the success story is, it gets the creative juices flowing and you’re thinking “that could be me!”. The same goes for inventors, business startups or just lucky people. I have ideas all the time. Most of them stink and I don’t execute. But if just one big idea hit, I’d be wildly successful, right? Well, the problem with this mentality, and I need to continue to remind myself of this is:
Survivorship Bias Clouds Your Mind
Survivorship Bias is the human tendency to form an opinion based on select anecdotes of “winners” or big events and ignore the more numerous (and likely) losing events. For the most part, the only incredible stories like this that you hear are – the WINNERS! You don’t hear about all the people who didn’t make it, it doesn’t make for a good story. For Bill Gates and Steve Jobs the college dropouts, there are millions of American college dropouts each year who aren’t successful at all. People tend to take a single anecdote of a celebrated success story and try to project that situation or prospect onto themselves or others. There are all kinds of people in Silicon Valley touting how college is a waste and holding these icons up on a pedestal as how you don’t need a degree to become wildly rich. To me, those data points are complete outliers – and useless.
Relating to David Chou, there are thousands of graffiti artists who don’t have a pot to piss in that probably now think they can be like him. They won’t. There will never be another story just like his. That’s the irony – everyone chases the history of a celebrated survivor when that history will never be repeated.
Do You Find Yourself Dreaming Big When You Hear Success Stories?
Do You Have Similar Examples of Survivor Bias?