You may be getting fooled by randomness.
“It’s easier today than ever before [to start an online business]… and it’s going to get easier and easier,” says Russell Brunson — famed Internet entrepreneur and CEO of ClickFunnels — on his YouTube channel to tens of thousands of followers.
Brunson is one of many rockstar gurus leveraging their past and current success, as well as their content creation machines, to build an army of online supporters in 2018.
As his followers will attest, Brunson is most certainly an expert. An Internet entrepreneur of over 15 years, Brunson built upon his many successes of selling products and services online to build Clickfunnels — a software platform that allows other Internet entrepreneurs to more easily build sales funnels for their own online products and services.
A major part of Brunson’s appeal is that his company has enabled hundreds if not thousands of other entrepreneurs to find vast success online, and become so-called experts themselves.
The result is an army of followers, an army of affiliates, and a $360 million SaaS business — the fastest growing, non-venture backed software company in the world.
While Brunson may definitely be worthy of his expert title, his transcendent status is certainly of his own making. He and his team pump out huge amounts of content — a YouTube channel, countless webinars, blogs, and a podcast — to support software sales and book sales, all of which reinforce his expert status.
Brunson is the consummate Internet expert, but he has ulterior motives, of course. He may be providing ample value, but it’s all a content marketing expense for his company, his personal brand and whatever is to come.
It pays for him to be an expert. The more we listen — both in terms of hours listened and days passed — the more value he gets out of us.
However, in the current Internet ecosystem — one very much facilitated by Brunson and Clickfunnels — the barrier is as low as its ever been for Internet entrepreneurs to call themselves experts and sell their services online.
That’s where we fall into the trap — following charismatic, loud, entrepreneurial evangelists, who have found success themselves, and believe their experience is worth sharing and can help other aspiring entrepreneurs.
Does a successful business make you an expert? Does a lot of social media followers make you an expert?
Whether or not these experts can help is another conversation altogether. Certainly, it feels good to follow the advise of experts. We need our north star, and experts exist to point us in the right direction and guide us along the way.
But if we are to follow experts, it’s important to recognize the forces at play that allows experts to teach, and call themselves experts.
Nobody knows anything… — William Goldman
Fooled by Randomness
Nassim Nicholas Taleb — financial trader, essayist, modern philosopher, author, and expert in his own right — caused ripples throughout the intellectual world with the publication of his 2001 book Fooled by Randomness.
The thesis of Taleb’s book is that humans — and especially those, as in Taleb’s case, in finance — struggle to understand uncertainty and randomness.
In particular, we tend to overestimate causality — that, for example, one’s hard work is the main reason for their success.
We also tend to look for explanations even when there are none — and as a result, explain that one’s success is due to their expert status, for example, and not simply due to randomness.
Psychology says that following experts is flawed, and there are several cognitive biases at play that cause us to be fooled by randomness.
We judge the quality of a decision once the outcome is already known.
When a team wins a sporting event, we attribute the win to the team’s or coaches’ performance, rather than randomness or chance.
We already know Russell Brunson, and Clickfunnels, is wildly successful — therefore, we attribute the success to their expertise.
Similarly, we concentrate on a select group of people — already successful entrepreneurs or those who are putting out an abundance of content — and overlook those with a lack of visibility.
We learn from the successes, and failures, of successful entrepreneurs. But, we don’t get to learn from the successes or failures of failed entrepreneurs, whose insight may be equally valuable.
Russell Brunson has helped many people find success with their digital businesses. But what of those who haven’t profited from his teachings?
It’s not satisfying to hear that a successful businessperson became successful largely because of luck or randomness.
So, we tell stories — we attribute success to one’s upbringing, their parents’ parenting style, or a seminal moment in their life.
We’re creating causality where there may not be any.
Fundamental Attribution Error
When we succeed, we attribute success to ourselves, and the decisions we made.
When we fail, we attribute failure to outside circumstances.
Brunson and Clickfunnels excel because of their hard work; any failure is due to market circumstances.
Gaining greater familiarity with cognitive biases undoubtedly impacts our ability to view experts, and the advice they are giving, with a healthy hint of skepticism.
You can follow experts. And they certainly may have valuable, practical advice. But approach with caution — you may be getting fooled by randomness.