The End of Average | Todd Rose

Summary of: The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness
By: Todd Rose


Welcome to the intriguing world of ‘The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness’ by Todd Rose. As we dive into this summary, you’ll learn how our society has long been obsessed with the idea of ‘average,’ from grades in school to job assessments, in ways that ultimately limit our true potential. Find out how these dated concepts of using averages to define individuals, both physically and psychologically, fall short in capturing our true essence and capabilities. Furthermore, you’ll discover modern approaches being taken by companies like Google and Microsoft to create workplaces that allow individual skill sets to thrive and contribute to our collective success.

The Flaw in the Average

Exploring the history and limitations of the concept of averages to measure human characteristics.

From schools to job assessments, society has perpetuated the use of averages to measure human characteristics, leading us to question who the average person even is, and why this system was even started. The origins of this concept can be traced back to astronomer Adolphe Quetelet in the nineteenth century, who applied the mathematical concept of averages to human measurements as well. Quetelet measured physical and psychological characteristics of thousands of people and averaged out the results to define the ideal “Average Man.” However, the use of averages to measure people’s characteristics has proven to be unsuitable, ultimately rendering the whole concept of averages irrelevant. The example of the average American family with 2.5 children shows how the majority of people almost always has different characteristics than what is considered average. Similarly, using average proportions of 15,000 women as reference led to the creation of “Norma,” a statue representing the ideal female figure. However, in a competition held by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in 1945, none of the 3,000 female contestants came close to matching all nine measurements used to define “Norma,” revealing the limitations of averages to accurately represent human characteristics. Thus, the concept of average as a universal standard to measure human characteristics is flawed and should be reconsidered.

Varied Human Body Characteristics

The lack of a ready vocabulary for accurately describing people shows just how varied human body characteristics actually are. There is no single body type, and each different characteristic is mostly unrelated to any other. Words like small, medium, and large are fine for T-shirts, but when it comes to human body characteristics, averages simply don’t work. The US Air Force measured 140 dimensions of over 4,000 different pilots and used the average of these measurements to design their first-ever standard airplane cockpit. However, not one pilot fit the dimensions of the cockpit, proving that by using 140 dimensions, they were essentially ensuring their cockpit would fit no one. Nowadays, cockpits and vehicles are adjustable, allowing each individual to comfortably use the controls. Similarly, every wedding gown is adjusted according to the measurements of each bride.

Misconceptions on Human Characteristics

Human character traits are not linked to intelligence as the misuse of averages on human characteristics has led people to believe. Stereotypes like “nerds are bad at sports” and “jocks aren’t intelligent” are baseless. Educational expert Benjamin Bloom’s experiments proved that there is no relationship between the speed of learning and knowledge retention. Psychologist Kurt Fischer also discovered that the idea of a strict series of specific stages for a child’s developmental path is baseless. The effectiveness of any given way of achieving a task depends on the individual, and any deviation from what’s considered average should not be deemed abnormal.

The Fluidity of Human Behavior

People’s behavior is not fixed and shifts according to context, leading modern companies like Google and Microsoft to create flexible working environments. By studying individuals’ unique character traits, these companies create teams that encourage the development of unique and complementary skills. Emphasizing someone’s talents rather than their standard credentials can lead to valuable talent that would otherwise be overlooked.

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