The End of Average

How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness

by Todd Rose

Number of pages: 256

Publisher: HarperOne

BBB Library: Personal Success

ISBN: 978-0062358363

About the Author

He is the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he leads the Laboratory for the Science of the Individual, and an associate faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. He is also the co-founder of The Center for Individual Opportunity, a non-profit organization that promotes the principles of individuality in work, school, and society.


Editorial Review

From the cradle to the grave, you are measured against the ever-present yardstick of the average, judged according to how closely you approximate it or how far you are able to exceed it. Today, however, we are on the brink of a new way of seeing the world, a change driven by one big idea: individuality matters. This new idea will have a profound impact on our institutions—instead of viewing talent as a scarce commodity, schools will be able to nurture excellence in every student, and employers will be able to hire and retain a wider range of high-impact employees.

Book Reviews

“Dr. Rose spends much of his narrative in the worlds of education and business, offering up examples of schools and companies that have defied the rule of the average, to the benefit of all. His argument will resonate in many other contexts, though: Readers will be moved to examine their own averagerian prejudices, most so ingrained as to be almost invisible, all worthy of review.” —The New York Times

“In The End of Average, [Dr. Rose] argues that our system of judging people according to their deviation from the mean (faster, slower, stronger, weaker) is smothering our talents. The sweeping generalisations of averagarians, as he labels them, cannot but gloss over the multifaceted nature of an individual. The effect is pernicious in the extreme.” — The Guardian

“Admissions offices, HR departments, banks and doctors make life-changing decisions based on averages. Rose says that ‘works really well to understand the system or the group, but it fails miserably when you need to understand the individual, which is what we need to do.’” — NPR

“’I first became interested in the idea of individuality because I was crashing over and over again in my own life,’ [Rose] admits, ‘and I couldn’t figure out why.’ The culprit, it turns out, was ‘the tyranny of the average,’ that is, the leveling of people to a norm against which they may be appraised and to which they can be fitted. It is the purpose of The End of Average to disrupt this tyranny.” — Education Next

“Todd Rose… is the Director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He focuses on how to promote the principles of individuality and the practice of personalisation in the workplace and education and in society.” — Harvard Business Review

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Wisdom to Share

As a school student, a college candidate, or a prospective employee, you are always graded and ranked by comparing your performance to the average peer; the “average” controls your opportunities and constricts your choices.

Quetelet declared that the individual person was synonymous with error, while the average person represented the true human being.

Quetelet claimed that every one of us is a flawed copy of some kind of cosmic template for human beings. He dubbed this template the “Average Man.”

For Quetelet, the Average Man was perfection itself, an ideal that Nature aspired to, free from Error with a capital “E.” He declared that the greatest men in history were closest to the Average Man of their place and time.

Quetelet’s invention of the Average Man marked the beginning of the Age of Average. It represented the moment when the average became normal, the individual became error, and stereotypes were validated with the imprint of science.

Much of the time, we don’t even think about what, exactly, we’re trying so hard to be above-average at, because the why is so clear: we can only achieve success in the Age of Average if others do not view us as mediocre or—disaster!—as below-average.

The main assumption of the science of the individual is that individuality matters—the individual is not error, and on the human qualities that matter most (like talent, intelligence, personality, and character) individuals cannot be reduced to a single score.

Recognizing our own jaggedness is the first step to understanding our full potential and refusing to be caged in by arbitrary, average-based pronouncements of who we are expected to be.

If you believe only one pathway exists to achieve your goal, then all there is to evaluate your progress with is how much faster or slower you hit each milestone compared to the norm.

The reason many students struggled in school had nothing to do with differences in the capacity to learn, and everything to do with artificial constraints imposed on the education process, especially fixed-pace group instruction.

If the architecture of higher education is based upon the false premise that students can be sorted by their rank, then no matter how great the triumphs this system might produce, it is still guaranteed to produce some failures that we simply cannot tolerate as a society.

If we want a society where each one of us has the same chance to live up to our full potential, then we must create professional, educational, and social institutions that are responsive to individuality.