Surviorship Bias

I read a lot of books. I probably average a book every two weeks during the year. I tend to read almost all non-fiction, as I have found that I don’t have the attention span for fiction. As a result, I tend to read a lot of technology, business and management books.

Unfortunately, I am starting to scale back the types of books that I read in these genres. What I’m finding is that since many of these books focus on showing that some idea or trait proves to be successful, they tend to all fall prey to the same basic flaw.

Survivorship Bias.

Typically used to describe the mutual fund sector, survivorship bias occurs when failed companies are excluded from studies due to the fact that they no longer exist. This is the case with most mutual fund portfolios. In terms other studies based on finding common properties of successful ideas or companies, survivorship bias simply means focusing those that are still around and hence, successful.

For example, let’s say that I’m writing a book about how Aeron chairs contribute to running a successful company. Being a good researcher, I go find a dozen or so companies to see what types of chairs they use. Right there, I’ve made a critical flaw: by finding companies that are still in business, I’m ignoring all of those companies who are already out of business. They could have all used Aeron chairs. Because of this, it would be easy to dismiss my findings.

The latest book that i read that falls prey to this is Made To Stick by Chip & Dan Heath. In Made To Stick, the authors put forth a simply acronym, SUCCES, that represents the 6 essential qualities that an idea needs to have in order for it to stick. They prove that successful ideas exhibit these qualities, but unfortunately, they don’t really make the case that ideas that don’t have these qualities consistently fail. Without the latter, the former is kind of incomplete.

I guess i’ll have to work hard to find books that present well researched and complete ideas.

As for how survivorship bias relates to the financial industry, that’s the topic of another post.

The Essence of Language

I found this quote when reading the excellent Ambient Findability by Peter Morville:

“Narrowly circumscribed groups develop coded languages that optimize communications between insiders at the expense of transparency to outsiders.”

I think that’s a great way to describe what’s going on with Domain Specific Langauges.

BTW, I highly recommend reading Ambient Findability. Though it was published in 2005, it’s coverage of then emerging technologies like GPS, semantics and search as it relates to people seem prescient now.

It’s a quick read too. Under 200 pages with lots of pictures 🙂

Adios Parallels

Well, there will be no more Parallels Performance tips coming from me. I have completely moved over to VMWare’s Fusion. I have been using the RC1 release of Fusion for about a month and it’s rock solid and fast. Today, 1.0 came out and it’s even faster.


Ironically, the biggest reason for switching wasn’t even the laughable stability of Parallels 3.0. It was their customer support. A while back, I started a thread on their forum stating that I would be moving back to 2.5 from 3.0 simply because i didn’t feel 3.0 was stable enough or fast enough for my usage. I simply hoped they would improve with news builds. What happened next floored me.

They had the stones to remove my post ( as well as any replies ) from their forums. When I brought this to the attention of the administrators and the other community members, I was told that they would look into it. Nearly a month later and still nothing.

Regardless, I don’t care anymore. Fusion is here, it works, and it’s FAST. I don’t care about fancy features such as opening documents in either os or running my windows apps alongside my mac ones. If I was that in love with windows, I’d be using a windows box.

Add the fact that Fusion lets me still use QuickSilver from with it’s VM and I’m sold.

It’s sad really, though. Parallels was the quirky upstart with first mover advantage, but they messed it all up by going after the flash. A simple search through their forums revels post after post after post about how shoddy their latest builds are and how unresponsive their customer support is. In fact, people who complain are often dismissed or told “tough, parallels works for a lot of other people.”

Oh well. Stay on the look out for VMWare performance tips though.