Why imitating success doesn't work

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Major league base ballers, as a rule, have scary good eyesight.

I always thought that 20/20 eyesight was perfect. But I read a great piece by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker, and found out you can go better than that.

Turns out if you have 20/15 vision, you can see at 20 feet. Someone with 20/20 vision can see at 15 feet. (And as an interesting aside an eagle is thought to have 20/5 vision).

An ophthalmologist, Louis Rosenbaum tested close to four hundred professional baseball players over four years and found on average they had eyesight of about 20/13. And when he looked at an elite team in the major leagues, he found that half had 20/10 vision (closer to that of an eagle than a normal person).

But no baseball player ever in the history of the sport has ever attributed their success to having great eyesight. What they will tell you is if you want to make it you have to work hard, believe in yourself, practice, persist etc etc.

However none of that will work nearly as well if you have only normal eyesight.

It’s the same with everything. Even when people are successful they generally don’t know what had them succeed. And we all regularly confuse correlation with causation … which makes the whole thing very tricky.

I think a better approach is to be curious about what will work for you, and run experiments to find out. And of course, these experiments should be informed by what’s worked for other people.

So if I wanted to be a professional baseball player (although I fear that ship may have sailed) I’d practice, and visualise, and believe and find out if that worked. And while I may never get the insight that my eyesight isn’t good enough, I’ll realise soon enough that what has worked for other people isn’t working for me. 

Likewise if I want to build wealth, or have a successful practice, or launch a new offering to market, or raise my kids to be good people, I’ll look at what’s worked for other people, but not assume that that’s going to be the answer for me.