97 percent chance you’ll fail

The odds of constant success are against you every 5 decisions. So there’s gotta be another way to define success.

Thursday December 28, 2023


In Flipping the coins of life, I outline how you can succeed 5 times with a success rate of 3%. That also means you have a 97% chance you won’t succeed 5 times in a row.

Flipping five coins will almost certainly yield at least tails

In life, we sometimes overemphasize winning. Even in the tech world of wanting to fail fast, I think most people just really want to win every time. Nobody seeks failure - that’s not the goal. They seek other things (learning, promotions, making more money).

When making decisions, it’s easy to black-and-white them. If there’s only a 3% change we’ll win 5 times in a row (with a 50% chance of winning every time), there’s a 97% chance you’ll fail at least once every 5 attempts.

If your probability of success is lower, then the odds of failing at once in five are almost 100%.

How do you quantify a life decision though? Maybe you only get one big choice a year (job change, like as is discussed in How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices). Is there a 50% chance of “success”? If so, every five years you’re highly likely to “fail”.

Per the book, it’s more likely that one bad thing happens and we hindsight bias our decision and black-and-white it.

Reality is: getting fired or your startup blowing up might be the best thing that ever happens to you. You just don’t know. Your story isn’t written yet. And actually, it’s not so much about if you made the right choice as if you just make the choice right in some way.

Choose your love, and then love your choice, as they say.


Bryan lives somewhere at the intersection of faith, fatherhood, and futurism and writes about tech, books, Christianity, gratitude, and whatever’s on his mind. If you liked reading, perhaps you’ll also like subscribing: