Why I Don’t Take Advice From Rich People

Why I Don’t Take Advice From Rich People

We’ve all seen them. The books, the podcasts, the news stories. Millionaire this, billionaire that. Success, success, success.

  • 10 Billionaires Give Their Best Advice on Getting — and Staying — Rich
  • 20 Productive Habits of Wealthy & Successful People

  • 11 Habits of Successful Business People Who Became Millionaires by 30

Between habits, advice, and just plain grift, there is a full-on multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is to sell us success porn.

You would think, with the abundance of seemingly sound information out there, that anyone with a library card or an internet connection could easily become a millionaire. We have so many interviews and surveys of millionaires now that we can rely on; if lack of advice was our problem, it should be difficult to NOT become a millionaire.

There’s just one issue with that – research methods. If you haven’t studied studies before, let me break down my particular concern with some Greek philosophy.

Diagoras, an atheist, was chillin’ with his buddy looking at paintings of shipwreck survivors.

[I prefer documentaries about murderers, but to each their own macabre pleasures.]

‘Yo, Diagoras, if you don’t believe in the Gods, how do you explain all of these people who were saved by their prayers?’

‘Errr,’ Diagoras said, ‘I see everyone who lived, but are there paintings of the ones who drowned?’

—Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods (loosely translated)

Now that’s the tea, sis!

Pointing to shipwreck survivors as evidence of answered prayers completely ignores the possibility that other passengers could have prayed too and still ended up swimming with the fishes. They just weren’t around for the group shot, sadly.

Back to millionaires. Someone can become a millionaire by inheritance, lottery, high income, luck, or diligent savings over a long period of time. Someone can be prevented from becoming a millionaire by low income, health issues, systemic inequality, luck, or poor money management. Many of the factors involved in wealth have little to do with our behaviour and much to do with where and when and to whom we’re born.

If all millionaires read at least one book every month, does that mean everyone who reads at least one book every month is more likely to be a millionaire? Not necessarily! It might be that millionaires have more time to read, for example. By sampling on the dependent variable we’ve missed out on the bigger picture.

Imagine that we stood at the finish line of a race of 100 people and asked those who completed it (let’s say 10 people) the secret to their success. Let’s say the one thing those 10 people had in common was that they each trained for 15 hours per week. We might conclude that training for 15 hours per week is a habit of race finishers that leads to their success.

What about everyone who trained for 15 hours per week but didn’t finish the race? It’s possible that almost everyone who ran the race trained for 15 hours per week, but we wouldn’t know that because we didn’t even ask them! Instead, we’ve come to a conclusion that cuts out 90% of the story.

If you prefer a more visual explanation, check out this comic instead.

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When you become aware of this bias, you’ll usually start to see it everywhere, and maybe you’ll also start to question why you’re making decisions based on unsound research.

Does this mean that rich people aren’t smart? No.

Does this mean that rich people don’t have valuable advice? No.

Does this mean that I hate rich people? No!!!

It simply means that I don’t take anyone’s advice based on their bank account balance alone. I still talk to rich people, I still value the experiences of rich people, I just don’t take their advice simply because they’re rich. There’s a lot more to the story than that.

Photo by Pedro Sostre on Unsplash



6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Take Advice From Rich People”

  • What a great post! I especially enjoyed the comic!

    As a millionaire myself, I know well the dangers of following so called “authorities” on the subject of building wealth. In most cases, the entire purpose of them writing a book is to enrich themselves ,not you.

    Don’t listen to me though — I’m just the millionaire in the corning doing “unpopular” stuff.

  • This was a great way to explain survivorship bias.

    That said, I think there’s still value in those posts (when they aren’t written as fluff and titled for clickbait). I don’t think anyone should take any advice without thinking about it first. The world is a very big place and has a lot of different paths, it’s important to study what others are doing and seeing how it integrates into your own life. You shouldn’t read those posts as a prescription for what you should be doing. (also, the goal in life isn’t necessarily to amass a lot of wealth at the cost of all other things)

  • “But what then?” Asked the fisherman.

    The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and list your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

    “Millions – then what?”

    The banker said, “Then you would retire!”. “Move to a place like here at Port Douglas where you can sleep late, fish a little, play a little golf and your kids, rest in the afternoons with your wife, stroll into town in the evenings, or walk the local markets, play with your guitar, go 4WD, have time for a drink/BBQ during the evenings with your mates and their families.

    And the fisher man smiled back at the banker and wished the him a good day and all the best on his holiday here in paradise!

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