Q&A: Should I mimic the habits/strategies/traits of winners and other successful people?

Note: This is an adaptation of a question I received about analyzing perfect or winning lineups in daily fantasy sports.

Should I mimic the habits/strategies/traits of winners and other successful people?

Maybe, but probably not.

In every industry, there’s seemingly endless content dissecting how successful people operate. I was at Barnes & Noble last night and saw maybe five dozen titles analyzing how rich people got rich as a means of offering advice on how you should try to become wealthy.

I think this is generally wrong, for a lot of reasons.


There’s a selection bias.

If you look solely at “winners,” there’s a huge selection bias in terms of the population you’re studying and thus any conclusions you draw about a wider population – i.e. yourself – will be incorrect at worst and inconclusive at best. You can’t determine if a particular strategy or trait “works” without analyzing baseline rates – how many others are employing the same strategy or trait.

In the context of DFS, studying winning lineups – which I see all the time – is one of those things that leads to hypotheses that are inconclusive at best and, many times, just wrong. As an example, if 90% of all players employ a certain strategy but only 80% of winners use that same tactic, studying winners could lead you to believe the approach is optimal – four out of five winners use it – when in reality it’s pretty detrimental.


You’re often not viewing a causal relationship.

Related to the first point, many conclusions drawn from biased data will point to strongly correlated (but not causal) relationships. One example is the “guys-who-are-dicks-get-the-girls” phenomenon, which I think is somewhat true but misleading. Girls tend to like guys with a high degree of confidence (not to be confused with those who frequently quantify their confidence levels…”I’m a coin flip on if I want to meet your friends” doesn’t tend to work, somehow, regardless of my accuracy Ia mean C’MON LADIES), and guys who do something no one likes (treat people like crap) can often at least feign a trait that people do like (being confident).

So if you look at the average guy who you think can easily get girls, you might conclude it’s right to be a douche when in reality douchey guys might just be more confident and you don’t actually need to treat women like shit to get them to like you. Sounds crazy, I know. I didn’t believe it myself at first.


They very easily could have just gotten lucky.

Many successful people just got lucky, plain and simple.


There’s probably no longer an edge.

If what you think you know about what it takes to become a winner is something a lot of other people know, too, then it might not be advantageous anymore. What’s “right” often changes based on others’ actions, and since people by and large tend to mimic the actions of those they see who are successful, the practice tends to become self-refuting; once it’s obvious something works, it doesn’t anymore.

This is one reason I advocate for the collection not just of knowledge, but more important, scarce knowledge; it’s not what you know, it’s what you know that others don’t which is valuable.


What’s right for others might not be right for you.

Winners change. A pro bodybuilder has a workout regimen and nutrition plan that probably doesn’t look much like how you should approach fitness. Billionaires do things with their money that don’t make sense for the average person. The freelance writer with a massive rolodex of clients doesn’t need to and shouldn’t work in the same manner as when he/she had no jobs.

So should you study the habits/strategies/traits of winners as a guide to finding your own path? I say no. You’re so often just viewing things that are correlated with the desired outcome – not a cause of it. Forge your own path; not only is it the most optimal way, it’s also the most fun.