The end of Average

As a society, we are obsessed by averages. Sports produce stats and work out players averages (time playing, batting/ bowling averages, goals per game for/against etc.), schools produce the average grades regionally, nationally and internationally, we can instantly google the average life expectancy (79 years) and average weight for certain heights (140-190lbs for 6 foot 1 male).

Do we ever stop to really think about what the averages mean or if they are even important? In Todd Rose’s book, “The end of average” he actually explains that by trying to fit something to the average, it actually ends up fitting nobody. He uses the example of pilots that were starting to produce an abnormally high number of crashes in a year. At the time (the 1950’s) they standardised the pilot’s cockpit to fit the average person.

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The average size of the pilot was calculated using 10 body sizes (head, chest, arms, legs etc.) This determined how far back the seat should be, where the pedals should be, how big their helmet was etc. A scientist decided to see how many pilots fit all 10 average sizes +/- 30%. The results were astounding even to this sceptical scientist. Out of over 4000 pilots, the average cockpit actually ended up fitting nobody… literally nobody. Thanks to his findings the engineers designed adjustable seats and pedals and helmets (which are standard pieces of equipment in today’s world). Imagine getting into the average sized car being 6 foot 7 and not being able to move the seat back!


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Jaggedness principle- Which man is bigger?


Is standardisation needed?

The crazy thing is, education still doesn’t have adjustable seats!

Standardised tests are still what everyone believes they need to leave school with. To a certain extent, they are right. People still need to have qualifications to go to university or have a degree to get a look in at a job (as I write this 2 people near me are just talking about how their qualifications aren’t accepted for certain things!)

However, some of the best companies do not require certain qualifications. They make their own criteria, which is specific to the individual role, rather than requiring letters/ numbers on a piece of paper.

Workplaces, such as IGN (a tech company), provide their own standards for how to select the best candidate. The candidates submitted why they wanted to work for the company and answered four questions. Out of 104 people that applied, 28 were selected to undertake a 6-week program specifically designed for the job. Half of these did not have a college degree. The company wanted to hire 1 or maybe 2 from the 6-week program but ended up hiring 8 people due to the skills and work ethic demonstrated. If the company had only looked at their resumes they wouldn’t have even got an interview for the position. The film “The Internship” is a little insight into a how this process could be achieved.

This makes me wonder again, is standardisation even needed?

I’m not denying that there isn’t a place for standardisation and averages. If you go to the doctors and you get a blood test you want to know if this is normal or not. I’d rather them not just tell me I got a score of “green” and for them to have no idea if this is any good or not. In this situation, it is good to know what the average is.

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Are university degrees really needed?

When I went to University I was just following that script that was laid out for life, I never actually decided that I wanted to go or what I really wanted to do. So I chose the only degree I could find with the word Sport in it and went off to Uni for three years. I am not saying that I didn’t learn anything from these three years. However, I am 100% saying the things that I really learnt were not from the course or what the university lecturers provided. As with most things in life, I learnt what I was interested in.

I learnt how to wash my own clothes… all the time. I learnt how to live with other people that were a similar age to me. I learnt how to meet people without knowing anybody else. I learnt how to manage my own time. I learnt about nutrition and how putting different foods in my body made me feel different. I learnt that it is possible to stay up all night and do coursework drinking red bull. I learnt that by doing this I became borderline delusional.

I do not regret going to university and I loved my time there. But I did not go to university to get a degree. It was a by-product of my real learning.

Can Universities be flexible in how they accept candidates?

I hear from a lot of people that if the children do not get results from tests then how will universities decide who they will accept?

This may possibly be one of the most backwards ways of thinking about education ever. We need to teach children how to sit an exam so that they can go somewhere else to sit more exams so that they can get a piece of paper?!

I’ve also written about some schools that have started assessing students skills and managed to find universities that accept this (click here to read more).

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To be successful and happy in our lives, we need to stop comparing ourselves to the average. By doing this we always have something else we’d like to achieve or we just coast through each day. By enjoying our own process of life and not comparing this to anyone else is where the true success lies. Otherwise, we will carry on flying that average plane that actually fits nobody.






9 thoughts on “The end of Average

  1. I really really liked this post, and I see greater truth in it. Being a high school student myself, and about to enter university in just under a year, the amount of pressure on our heads to get good scores is tremendous. We don’t get any time off, literally. Just today we heard a new initiative of our board that all students must compulsorily be active and sports in order to even be eligible to write the exam. It’s a perfect analogy of a fish being tested to climb a tree. We’ve all become accustomed to comparing our grades with others we forget about self improvement. Thanks for sharing this, it really resonated with me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. It’s so important to remember exams are not the be all and end all. Especially in today’s world, there are so many different ways to make a living than simply going to uni and getting a ‘normal job’. We just need to be open minded and eager to take opportunities when they arise

      Liked by 1 person

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