Silent Evidence

There’s a fallacy in the way we perceive events, says Black Swan author N. Taleb.

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.

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Interesting point of view there,
    my take is follow a proven system, do your homework before you invest in that system… and like Henry Ford said “whether you think you can or think you can’t your right….

  • I have a hard time 'buying' this line of thought. I believe if you follow certain principles you WILL ATTAIN Success,Period, over & out!

    Will you become Rich?(Well that is subject to each ones idea of 'Rich")….Every person must DEFINE Success & Wealth for themselves…I do Believe Success is not up to Fate or chance.

    As Emerson has said "Most folks would rather endure Pain than Pursue Pleasure"…
    I believe folks lack Success because they have not taken action
    more than anything else

    Matt Geib

  • I don’t believe for even a second that success is random. I have been reading and participating in a mastermind group that is reading Think and Grow Rich. If you really believe that success is random, success WILL elude you. I HIGHLY recommend Think and Grow Rich, as well as joining a mastermind group. It wasn’t until I joined my mastermind group that this book became easy to understand…

  • Success may not be for everyone that’s why they struggle so much. I know this guy that I used to work with that thought that everyone was out to get him. Guess what? If you think it, it will come.

    As for the movie that doesn’t do well in the box office – people still paid money to see it. Just as all movies are NOT for everyone, not all businesses/products are for everyone.

    Choose what you want to do and do it well.

    Amy Howard

  • I am becoming convinced that achieving a goal is the result of four things: strong desire, firm decision, fervent determination, and — most importantly — DILIGENCE.

    The “universe” is not personal and can do nothing for you. The law of sowing and reaping doesn’t always apply to people the same way it applies in nature.

    However, skills plus diligence do give joy and produce results to one degree or another.

  • Kim, you are courageous to write this. It challenges the American way of thinking that success is the product of your effort and therefore not having success must be your fault. At the moment I am reading “The End of Poverty : How We Can Make It Happen in Our Lifetime” by Jeffrey Sachs. He explores why some countries fail to achieve economic growth. He comes up with factors like altitude or proximity to a seaport that are important and other factors like climate and culture. I am reading this book because I try to understand what causes poverty and I want to learn what I can do.


  • — very interesting comments about this blog post & the ideas it presents.

    I have to say that from much reading and studying success coaching books, I'd agree with the comments — if that reading and studying was all I'd experienced. But, from observation and life experience, I've seen the truth of Kim's comments. Success is not totally random . . . it DOES leave tracks and those tracks can sometimes be followed to success . . . but following the best tracks with the very best of attitudes, intentions, tools, etc, does not guarantee success.

    Do you not know of more than one couple who have both followed the same eating/exercise plan faithfully, but the husband is more successful than the wife in reaching their desired weight and body shape? People are different, and different things work for different people, whether in personal goals or business goals.

    In business, have you not known multiple people who have worked a successful system so very diligently, yet have not achieved anywhere close to their desired success? Boy, I have! I have personally been quite successful in 2 MLM businesses — building to the car in both. To do that, I had to follow a system with consistency and persistence, doing all the right thingss for sure. But, on my teams in both businesses I had team mates who ALSO implemented the system with just as much diligence and persistence, yet did not achieve the same success. There are other parts to the equation . . . like, for instance, the specific people sponsored onto the team by each person, the amount of product bought by each individual, etc. And, on the other hand, I observed people soar to the top in each company, with very little if any system or effort, due to the particular circle they were in or due to sponsoring 2 or 3 'aces' at the start.

    Success does usually require personal growth and following a true system . . . but for each person who does that and gains success, there are many others who follow the same steps but do not experience the same success.

    I love the MLM industry, but even as a leader I always felt it was quite deceptive for only the success stories to be published, and only the successes to be paraded across the stage. I always have had very hard working team mates, doing all the right things, for just as long as I have and others have, yet who have not 'qualified' for the stage. The same is true in other industries as well, because people are the same in all industries!

    I have long thought that far fewer people would fall to depression and more people would end up being successful if the 'success industry' would be more truthful and not cover up the 'silent evidence' that is around us every day.

    Thanks, Kim, for a very thoughtful, truthful blog post!

    Rita L. Goad, PhD

  • I certainly don’t think “success” is random. First is a matter of the definition of success. What if I think it’s money and someone else thinks it’s fame. Second is the degree. If we both think it’s money – what is the level of success? $10,000 or $1,000,000?

    There is not a fallacy in perception. It is the fact that it is perception. “One mans’ junk is another mans’ treasure”.

    I absolutely believe if you do what you love – you will be successful – if only to yourself.

  • Erica – You write "Kim, you are courageous to write this. It challenges the American way of thinking that success is the product of your effort and therefore not having success must be your fault."

    Yes, that's what we have been brainwashed to believe. But it's not true. Many other factors besides self effort and following "proven principles" determine determine whether one is financially successful. But admitting that wouldn't sell guru programs.

    And it would also discourage some people from trying at all. It's important to believe you can in order to continue overcoming obstacles. And that's a good thing.

    But it doesn't guarantee success.

    Does anyone really believe that of the 95% of those folks who didn't make a success of their business, that NOT A SINGLE ONE put in major effort, major time and major money?

    From my own organizations, I can tell you there were a good number of people who spent time, energy and money and didn't have lasting success.

    To pretend that we can explain success is pretty arrogant. Some people say X was or was not successful because of their religion. God smiled on them. Or frowned on them. Or it was their time. Or not their time.

    We all have different explanations for success. But the explanations, regardless of what they are, are not good enough to predict success.

    And that is the problem.

  • Before a football games as well as other sporting events, coaches, players and fans pray for the safety of the participants. Many even pray for victory.

    Yet when a team loses, that does not mean God favored one team over another. There is a bigger, long-term purpose than simply winning or losing.

    And I know my mother has never read a single “rules for success” book, yet has a thriving family restaurant, that she started with absolutely nothing.

    Some coaches win the national championship or Super Bowl, while others never sniff success. Yet they do it because they love what they do and get a lot of satisfaction molding players and making a difference.

    The key to me is to do the best you can, and enjoy the ride along the way. Leave the results to God, and find out the ‘whys’ and ‘how comes’ when you get to the other side of heaven.


    Eat Well. Live Well.

  • Earlier this year I met the great-grand-niece of Thomas Edison. She wrote a book called, “Innovate Like Edison”

    Funny thing, though, is I couldn’t find a single patent with her name on it. Looks like she makes her money *teaching* people how to innovate like Edison, not actually through innovation.

    But I digress . . .

    It is very tempting to pick out a successful person try to reverse engineer what made them successful.

    Put 1000 people in the room and have them flip a coin 10 times, chances are one will hit heads 10x in a row.

    Should we interview them to see how they did it? 🙂

    As Malcolm Gladwell illustrates so well in his book “Outliers,” there’s a lot more to success than most people will ever realize.

    Walter Reade (from Wisconsin)
    Slight Edge Sponsoring (ebook)
    Slight Edge Networking (blog)

    . . . . .

  • Kim,

    Great blog. Success is NOT guaranteed, even if you do everything perfectly. Randomness IS an element of life and, for those who believe in a sovereign God, there is also His will and purpose for our lives to contend with. My opinion is that many, if not most, MLM leaders are hype-masters who churn people in order to get their heap, without regard to the damage that they do to the 95% who are not successful. Keep up the good work of cutting through all of the hype and BS so that people can make an informed decision about being in business for themselves.


  • I like how you think. I wrote a post today bout how people claim that it is fear that causes people to not spend money to join a home business. I believe that we should always use caution. There are people that are made for certain businesses and certain people that are not. There is now way to guarantee that everyone will achieve the same results but we can look for sound systems and sound techniques that have worked for many and we can apply them the best we can with our own unique spin and hope we succeed. It does bug me that the so called gurus talk about those that fail as if they are stupid idiots and they just didn't follow the system correctly. There are more variables than that.

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