Individuals around the world pore over books, magazines, news articles, videos, tapes, and podcasts about highly successful individuals with the hope of gleaning the golden nuggets of success that will allow them to achieve the fame and fortune of those the world dubs “entrepreneurs.”
In the great majority of cases, you will find that these individuals are information junkies, collecting information but rarely applying it to their own particular circumstances. In other cases, you will find that many individuals are enamored with the lifestyle and toys of the rich and famous, but are unwilling to sacrifice their time, effort, and money in the singular pursuit of their objective.
But, let us examine what these famous and fortunate individuals never seem to say. The x-factors that should be considered before you read the very first word about their achievements.
X-Factor 1. They never mention the survivorship bias and the pure dumb luck of being in the right place, at the right time, with access to the right resources.
The survivorship bias is a logic error that leads to false perceptions because it concentrates and focuses an individuals attention on one who has survived trials and tribulations to rise to prominence; ignoring in the process those of similar abilities and similarly situated who failed to achieve traction and who may have forfeited everything for naught. Self-deprecating individuals who want to take the edge of their boasts about their accomplishments sometimes mention luck, circumstances, and possibly the assistance of others; but are quick to point out and magnify their own contribution in a magnificent achievement.
X-Factor 2. They never mention that their agenda is being promoted highly-compensated public relations courtiers to achieve recognition and validation in the mainstream media.
Today’s example may be found in the coverage of the smart, wealthy, and entrepreneurial successful, Elon Musk, described in a mass publication as “The Architect of Tomorrow.” The sub-head reads, “Inside the inventor's world-changing plans to inhabit outer space, revolutionize high-speed transportation, reinvent cars – and hopefully find love along the way.”
However, the truth appears to be quite different. Although widely touted as a co-founder of PayPal, Musk was brought into the existing enterprise during a merger and served briefly as its CEO; the title of co-founder having being bestowed by the Board of Directors. Likewise, he is not the driving force behind the technical expertise of Tesla, Space-X, or SolarCity. What Musk brings to the table is the ability of a financier, a money-spinner who can attract both publicity and investment to his various ventures. Other than Space-X which is heavily subsidized by the government, all of his other major entrepreneurial activities do not appear to be profitable and are in dire need of a fresh capital infusion. Musk is the ultimate self-promoter and networker – supported by a cadre of highly-paid and skilled public relations people, graphic artists, and model makers who bring life to his concepts in the mainstream media and the lobbyists who keep those government grants, subsidies, contracts, and tax breaks coming.
In a serious interview with financial media, Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors claims that “Tesla is a ‘losing enterprise’ that won't last.” and goes on to explain that Elon Musk reveals a new and bold scheme (battery-driven semi-tractor/trucks, exploration of Mars, transporting people under Los Angeles in hyper-loop tunnels) every time he needs to raise capital. And, for now, it appears investors are willing to respond positively – perhaps based on the “greater fool theory” where they believe that they can sell their inflated investment before any bubble bursts.
X-Factor 3. They never mention that initial demand is driven by the exclusivity that comes from limited production and status-signaling pricing/positioning.
Even though you might not be aware of the details about special product placements and promotional details that put products on the screen or in the hands of “influencers,” there is a conscious attempt to portray products and services as limited, exclusive, and signal that you are among a select class of individuals who should be recognized for their wealth, position, and good taste. When these very same products and services become available to the mass market, the “influencers” and “signalers” move on to the next product or service.
So when you hear that next success story, think about those who failed; think about who crafted the story; and think about whether or not a similar success can be replicated by an ordinary person without a great deal of luck.