To be average or not to be…the end of an era?

The end of average. Todd Rose. A book review. 

I read The end of average by Todd Rose back at the end of December. And then I had to read it again. Because it is good and because it is not trivial. So I thought it makes this book worth writing a review about it. 


First I like its level of language, its style. It is accessible to a non-native like me and at the same time precise enough to engage in real thinking. The author strikes the right balance between explanation and simplification.

Second I appreciated the thorough description and historical account of how we got where we are today in Chapter 1, including the people who influenced early 20th century thinking and the logic and assumptions behind their ideas. In 1835 Adolphe Quetelet decided to apply the method of average initiated in astronomy to social science, implying the average is perfection and any deviation from it is an error. Francis Galton following in his footsteps repositioned the average as “mediocre”, above average as “eminent” and below average as “imbecile”; Galton also assumed that if you are below average in one dimension then you are overall below average, and applied the same to above average. This led to labelling groups of people as eminent, mediocre or imbecile, on all dimensions of capability and character.

Along came standardization. Edward Thorndike with school standardization and  Taylor with work standardization. I won’t go into too much detail here, a lot is known already, and if standardization and how it came to be triggers your curiosity, I recommend you focus on Chapter 2. Scary and highly interesting at the same time.

Third I learned that the key assumption when studying individuals, that “a group’s distribution could safely be substituted for an individual’s distribution of measurements” is actually wrong (according to a number of scientists and the author) and leads to false results. In simple terms the paradox could be summarized as: how can you understand individuals and ignore their individuality at the same time? Based on the acknowledgment of this mathematical mistake and the paradoxe coming with it the author Todd Rose introduces his key message “individuality matters”, his call to action “first analyse then aggregate”and the 3 highly interesting principles that support it:

– Jaggedness: you can reasonably only aggregate data on traits that are focused enough to be non-multidimensional and not correlated. 

– Context: take the traits and put them in situation. Observe the outcome. Repeat at will. You get the whole spectrum and complexity of personality. Taken independently neither trait nor situation are enough to reliably forecast a typical reaction by a given indivdidual.

– Pathways: Todd Rose writes: “first in all aspects of our lives and for any given goal, there are many, equally valid ways to reach the same outcome; and second, the particular pathway that is optimal for you depends on your own individuality”. Pretty straightforward isn’t it? To understand, yes…to live by…well…

This theory is obviously still in its infancy. I find it far from easy to grasp its implications for society, education and work at once. It already exists here and there, and I want to be able recognize this approach when I see it.

I am also not fully clear on how to implement this thinking in everyday life and everyday work. If the advantages are clear for me, what kind of risks come along with it? No theory or approach is perfect, so what am I getting myself into if I want to embrace the principles of jaggedness, context and pathways? And of course analysing great amount of data before aggregating is a computing challenge, how can we solve it at all levels?

My take-away? I will definitely dig deeper, check into the works of Peter Molenaar who inspired the author, maybe read Karen Adolph about infant development. And of course I will be especially aware of the tyranny of average and play my part in caring, designing for individuals rather than averages.

My last words, quoting the author: individuality matters.


Aux larmes citoyens…

2016-07-15 14.39.59I wake up this morning, full of cheer. Second day of this summer’s karate camp. Eat breakfast, chat with my friends, go back to my room. Wham! Boum! Whack!
Attack in Nice, right after the firework celebrating our national day. Some crazy fou-furieux drove into the people with a truck. A truck!!! He drove into men, women, children, peacefully assembled to look in awe at a beautiful pyrotechnical masterpiece, the traditional firework on the bay.

I am stunned
My heart is filled
With anger and grief
I want to cry
My hands are trembling
My legs keep shaking
The panic is brief
I need to cry
I want to hit and kick and bite
In my head it feels so tight
Only pressure, no relief
My tears are dry

That’s how far I came today. And as I look for peace and love and sense in all this chaos, I wish all of them, all of you, all of us will find the inner strength and drive to move forward and build a better world, a safer world for us all.

I believe in humanity, stronger than ever.

Auld lang syne

2016-07-03 10.18.13

Am I in denial? or am I visionary? I am leaving my first ever employer, after 17 fantastic years…and I don’t feel sad.

I am touched by the signs of kindness, gratitude, and awe. I am worried by the pain, despair and fear I see . I am puzzled by the silence, discomfort, and restlessness. Yet I am not sad.

There I learned to speak the business language, I learned to walk the business walk, I learned to waltz the business waltz. From A to Z. Trying, falling, standing up, trying again.

There I met friends of heart, friends of late hours and friends of “getting things done”. We laughed, we cringed, we pulled our hair and sang “we made it”.

Although I know I will miss much of it, I am not sad.

I am thankful.

My heart is filled with gratitude for the wonderful moments that paved the way to this day. And that gratitude is what gives me the drive to navigate to new horizons….

Look! It is right over there, look how beautiful it is….

Moving beyond the workshop syndrome

2016-06-17 12.54.51

I am sitting here in this workshop, struggling with attention, motivation…why am I here in the first place? I remember preparing for this opportunity, being really excited about my focus for this workshop. 4 hours in, I clearly forgot what my intention was, or am I slowly realizing that my objective wasn’t the right one?
Does this ring a bell? Have you ever been caught in this situation?
I am discovering a new way of looking at a possible outcome. The journey is as important as the destination. Participating is what matters. Explore before you focus. That’s it, explore, be curious, let the brainstorm come to you… The moment I realized exploration was going to be the name of my game this week, my energy started to creep up, ramp up, shoot up.
There is a pattern here. When I am faced with uncertainty of any kind, my knee-jerk reaction is to look for a specific sharp objective and focus more…and eventually fail because I don’t know what to look for. This time I noticed my initial reaction. And I knew I needed to do something different, but what? And how? I wrestled with my own discomfort for another few hours. The day came to a close, we all headed to the metro station with the promise of a pleasant dinner.
Bingo! Eureka! Let go. Let go? Yes, let go!
Forget about focus, go broad. Stop searching, start observing. Contemplate, listen, follow your interest and your curiosity without limiting yourself about whether it has a clear immediate use. I am now 3 hours into the second day, having fun, listening, tuning into what people say and show. I am fully engaged. I don’t know what I will get in the end but I know it will be good. I let go and want to be curious, and it feels good.

How often do you let go and allow yourself to be curious?

Welcome to the subway connection

First glimpse

I bid you welcome to this blog. It bears a name that might not mean so much to you yet. It does mean a lot to me and my intention is to bring clarity over the next few posts into what it is all about. To get started let me list a few words as thought triggers: personal growth, impulses, insights, navigate, explore, reflect.

That’s it for now. More coming soon.

Explore, connect, grow!