The traditional media and the social media are peppered with stories on how one can achieve success like other successful entities. Examples include, 7 habits, Good to Great, and numerous blog articles that follow the similar pattern. Almost all of these articles look at a successful business or a person and look for observable positive traits . Then they attribute the success to the presence of such positive traits.
The general arguments against such studies include:
- Treating correlation as causation
- Different biases (survivorship, selection, availability, hindsight)
- Methodology errors like omitted variable bias
- We can’t stop because the data fit an hypothesis, data can fit any number of hypotheses.
Even if we set all these flaws aside and accept that indeed the success was the direct result of the positive traits there is another problem. These traits may be sufficient to the success but are they necessary?
Take an extreme example (for illustration). Let us say you observe a tall person in a fruit orchard. You observe her effortlessly pick much more fruits than others thanks to her height which gives her access to more opportunities. Her height was sufficient to get more fruits, but was it necessary?
Next time you see articles on “6/7/8/9 ways to do marketing/product-launches like Apple/Google/twitter/GratefulDead”, even if you look past the biases you should ask if the methods are relevant to your situation and are indeed necessary for your success.