What's Happening in Character?

Book Review: The End of Average

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 @ 13:04 PM

Book Review: The End of Average, How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Harvard scientist Todd Rose

By Becky Sipos

You might think a book about the story of “average” would be arcane and uninteresting, but I was hooked from the opening anecdote. The book begins with the story of the Air Force in its early days when planes kept crashing. In fact, 17 planes crashed on a single day. Investigators kept saying “pilot error.” But one researcher kept digging. The cockpits had been designed for the average dimensions of pilots, but researcher Lt. Gilbert Daniels found that out of the 4,063 pilots, none had all the “average measurements,” not one. Even if you took only three of the measurements, less than 3.5 percent of the pilots were “average.” That may not seem significant, but taking a split second longer to reach a control or to make an adjustment to a piece of equipment just slightly out of reach could make the difference between flying or crashing. To their credit, the Air Force took that knowledge and created flexible cockpits—adjustable seat belts, mirrors, helmet straps and foot pedals—things that we take for granted in our vehicles today. The Air Force created a radical plan: to design environments to fit the individual.

Today that concept of individual fit is being applied to medicine as oncologists, neuroscientists, geneticists and more try to design medicine and treatments best suited to match an individual’s DNA. Some successful businesses also have begun to implement these principles. Google found relying on standard measurements did not help them find the creative employees they sought. There is even a new interdisciplinary field of science known as the science of the individual. With the “average” philosophy, we aggregate and then analyze; the science of the individual says analyze and then aggregate

And yet, this mindset is not everywhere. It is not widespread in schools. The age of average persists.  

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Topics: testing, Sipos Rebecca, Book Review