Good Soldiers vs. Lucky Soldiers
We shouldn’t study what makes people successful, but rather study what makes people fail and then avoid those mistakes.
The culture of entrepreneurship often makes the mistake of celebrating the individual and neglecting the collective. We lionize the sole founder and their skill and forget about how each of us, and how each organization, is the product of so many privileges, people, access, history, and luck.
While one school of thought says that the greatest entrepreneurs are those in possession of a rare genius or superhuman skill, another school of thought argues that the surrounding conditions have more to do with making entrepreneurs great than some innate ability within them.
In this podcast (minute 14:55), Charlie Songhurst, former head of strategy at Microsoft and a prolific angel investor who has invested in 483 startups, argues that we shouldn’t study what makes people successful, but rather study what makes people fail and then simply try to avoid those mistakes. He suggests that it is survival that begets greatness, not greatness that begets survival. Surviving long enough puts someone “up the experience curve” where their environment refines them by training and retraining their minds to be continuously optimized.
Songhurst cites a quotation from a military general who said: “It’s not that good soldiers become veterans, it’s that lucky soldiers become veterans, but veterans are good soldiers.” So what? This is an argument rooted in equity. It advocates for betting on more people earlier and believing in them longer.