Luck, bias, and dumb mental shortcuts

This post is by Giff Constable from

A sentence stood out to me yesterday in a doc Randy Silver shared on Twitter: “One of the most jealously guarded secrets of TV is the reality that those who get their pilots made and show picked up on any given year are usually no more gifted, visionary, or prodigious, than the ones who did not.”

The document Randy shared had 11 leadership tips for TV showrunners, and that list serves equally well as advice for founders. But that particular sentence brought me back to when I lived in Silicon Valley in the 1990s. Here’s what I saw: you could look to the person to your right (Sarah) and the person to your left (Sarafina). Both were equally smart, creative, ambitious, and hard-working. Yet Sarah was rich and Sarafina was still living paycheck to paycheck. The difference was that Sarah took a job at a winner and Sarafina didn’t. And by “didn’t”, I don’t mean that Sarafina necessarily picked a company that failed, but merely one that didn’t exit at the extreme-enough end of the spectrum to make those stock options “change your life” worthy.

But the way the world looked at Sarah versus Sarafina was very different. Sarah would be viewed as a bit of an oracle, as if she was personally responsible for the success of her company, rather than the excellent contributor she was. Sarafina was equally excellent, but didn’t have that glow. And if Sarafina’s company actually failed, as most startups do, she might even (Read more...)