Take the story of the shipwrecked worshipers.
2,000 years ago, someone showed a philosopher a tablet with pictures of some folks who had prayed, then survived a shipwreck.
The inference was that praying protects you from drowning.
The philosopher then asked: Where are the pictures of the worshipers who prayed, then drowned?
Silent evidence, in this case – the other worshipers who prayed but drowned – conceals the randomness of events, Taleb writes.
As humans, we seek to explain why some people survive (or succeed), by coming up with – and selling – reasons why they did so. Naturally they suggest you can, too, if you buy and do what they’re selling.
For example, take any of the thousands of “10 proven rules for success” programs or books in the you-name-it-business, from marketing to acting to stock brokering.
They’re often based on someone who made it following those 10 (or whatever) rules.
But they all omit the silent evidence – those who did the very things described. For a sustained period of time. Only they did NOT make it.
Success may be much more random than the gurus and recruiters would have you believe. But it’s easier to blame the people (“they’re losers, not committed…” etc.) than to acknowledge we might be reading too much into individual (and few) success stories.
P.S. In any creative venture – from your movie to your own business – belief that it’s going to turn out well seems absolutely necessary, simply to begin. But even with belief and tremendous effort, often it does NOT turn out well. Most movies, like businesses, fail too. And not for lack of belief and sustained effort and big infusions of money.
That’s why it’s so important to love your thing, so that at least you’ll have gotten some thrills and enjoyment from the experience. At least then your lack of success won’t eat at you until the stress of it makes you a wreck.