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The End of Average

Cover of The End of Average

The End of Average

How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness
by Todd Rose

Are you above average? Is your child an A student? Is your employee an introvert or an extrovert? Every day we are measured against the yardstick of averages, judged according to how closely we come to it or how far we deviate from it.

The assumption that metrics comparing us to an average—like GPAs, personality test results, and performance review ratings—reveal something meaningful about our potential is so ingrained in our consciousness that we don't even question it. That assumption, says Harvard's Todd Rose, is spectacularly—and scientifically—wrong.

In The End of Average, Rose, a rising star in the new field of the science of the individual shows that no one is average. Not you. Not your kids. Not your employees. This isn't hollow sloganeering—it's a mathematical fact with enormous practical consequences. But while we know people learn and develop in distinctive ways, these unique patterns of behaviors are lost in our schools and businesses which have been designed around the mythical "average person." This average-size-fits-all model ignores our differences and fails at recognizing talent. It's time to change it.

Weaving science, history, and his personal experiences as a high school dropout, Rose offers a powerful alternative to understanding individuals through averages: the three principles of individuality. The jaggedness principle (talent is always jagged), the context principle (traits are a myth), and the pathways principle (we all walk the road less traveled) help us understand our true uniqueness—and that of others—and how to take full advantage of individuality to gain an edge in life.

Read this powerful manifesto in the ranks of Drive, Quiet, and Mindset—and you won't see averages or talent in the same way again.

Are you above average? Is your child an A student? Is your employee an introvert or an extrovert? Every day we are measured against the yardstick of averages, judged according to how closely we come to it or how far we deviate from it.

The assumption that metrics comparing us to an average—like GPAs, personality test results, and performance review ratings—reveal something meaningful about our potential is so ingrained in our consciousness that we don't even question it. That assumption, says Harvard's Todd Rose, is spectacularly—and scientifically—wrong.

In The End of Average, Rose, a rising star in the new field of the science of the individual shows that no one is average. Not you. Not your kids. Not your employees. This isn't hollow sloganeering—it's a mathematical fact with enormous practical consequences. But while we know people learn and develop in distinctive ways, these unique patterns of behaviors are lost in our schools and businesses which have been designed around the mythical "average person." This average-size-fits-all model ignores our differences and fails at recognizing talent. It's time to change it.

Weaving science, history, and his personal experiences as a high school dropout, Rose offers a powerful alternative to understanding individuals through averages: the three principles of individuality. The jaggedness principle (talent is always jagged), the context principle (traits are a myth), and the pathways principle (we all walk the road less traveled) help us understand our true uniqueness—and that of others—and how to take full advantage of individuality to gain an edge in life.

Read this powerful manifesto in the ranks of Drive, Quiet, and Mindset—and you won't see averages or talent in the same way again.

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About the Author-
  • Todd Rose 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. He is also the cofounder and president of The Center for Individual Opportunity, an organization dedicated to providing leadership around the emerging science of the individual. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2015
    Rose (Director, Mind, Brain, and Education Program/Harvard Univ.; Square Peg: My Story and What it Means for Raising Innovators, Visionaries, and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers, 2013) rejects the faulty benchmark of average and advocates for principles of individuality in schools and businesses. The author opens with an account of U.S. Air Force pilots in the late 1940s who found that they could not retain control of the faster and more complicated jet-powered airplanes. The problem, which was costly to the Air Force in both equipment and personnel, was found to be rooted in the design of the planes' cockpits, which had been created uniformly for the "average pilot," a person who only existed in a statistical aggregate. After extensive research, when the Air Force adopted the guiding principle of individual fit--adjustable seats, foot pedals, helmet straps, and flight suits--the matter was solved, planes ceased crashing, and pilot performance skyrocketed. Springboarding from this provocative anecdote, Rose, a pioneer in the new "science of the individual," argues that while average is a useful concept when discussing groups of people, it is a useless measurement with regard to individuals and should be abandoned. From its beginnings with a Belgian astronomer in the early 19th century, Rose traces the evolution of average as a measurement as well as its pervasive infiltration into schools and the workplace in the forms of GPAs, standardized testing, performance reviews, and personality tests. He then turns his attention to the principles that underlie the emergent science of individuality to speak to the complexities belied by "averagarian" thinking. Finally, he provides a handful of examples of companies whose commitment to its employees as individuals forms the bedrock of their success, and he speaks to the shortcomings of our current higher educational system, touching lightly on alternative approaches. An intriguing view into the evolution and imperfections of our current system but lacking a clear path toward implementing the proposed principles of individuality.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2015

    Rose (educational neuroscience, Harvard Graduate Sch. of Education; Square Peg) presents an intriguing analysis of the science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society. His analysis reveals that computing the average of something does not mean that any one individual data element included in that calculation will equal the resulting average. In other words, he explains that there is no such thing as an average kid, employee, athlete, or anything. Rose applies his mathematical analysis to numerous data calculations common in today's society, including school progress, child development, employee performance, business product specifications, mental agility, and military preparedness. His alternative that better understands individuals includes the jaggedness principle (talent is always jagged), the context principle (traits are a myth), and the pathways principle (we all walk the road less traveled). Rose's focus is on finding ways of appreciating the uniqueness of each person and how to maximize the full power of individuality vs. trying to fit behavior into any mathematically calculated average expectation. This is an important contribution to the highly specialized field of statistics and probability as exemplified in Stephen M. Stigler's The History of Statistics and Statistics on the Table, and Frederic M. Lord and Melvin R. Novick's Statistical Theories of Mental Test Scores. VERDICT Rose's scholarly analysis is most relevant to university libraries supporting intelligence and personality testing, psychological and sociological research, and economics.--Dale Farris, Groves, TX

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times "[S]ubversive and readable. . . . What has been called the new science of the individual."
  • The Guardian "[Rose's] personal experiences are recounted hearteningly in his book. That alone makes it a worthwhile read for the aspiring nonconformist."
  • Kirkus Reviews "An intriguing view into the evolution and imperfections of our current system . . ."
  • Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals "Todd Rose has achieved a rare feat: he is both provocative and right. He overturns our fundamental assumptions about talent, and offers an empowering way to rethink the world. With exciting stories, fresh data, and bold ideas, this book is far better than average."
  • Dan Heath, co-author of the New York Times bestsellers Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive "Consistently mind-blowing!"
  • Amy Cuddy, professor at Harvard Business School, and author of Presence "Fascinating and engaging. Todd Rose dispels the myth that our success can be divined by a simple number or average, whether a grade, a score in a standardized test, or ranking at work. The End of Average will help everyone—and I mean everyone—live up to their potential."
  • Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell Is Human and Drive "Todd Rose shows that everything we think we know about 'average' performance is wrong. In fact, our one-dimensional understanding of achievement—our search for the average score, average grade, average talent—has seriously underestimated human potential. This book is readable, enlightening, and way above average."
  • Howard Gardner, author of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed "Todd Rose's thought-provoking book challenges the explanatory power of the everyday term 'average,' opening our minds to new ways of conceptualizing human variation and human potentials."
  • John Seely Brown, independent co-chair of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and coauthor of The Social Life of Information, The Power of Pull and The New Culture of Learning "In the midst of a war for talent, we miss opportunities to find it. This stunning book shows how almost all measures we use reduce complicated individuals to one-dimensional beings...[and] overlook how talent, context, and disposition fold together to create individual uniqueness. I couldn't put this book down."
  • Seth Godin, author of We Are All Weird and Stop Stealing Dreams "Rose will change the way you see culture, school, work and everyone around you. Taylorism is officially dead. With compelling stories and an engaging style, he transforms our understanding of who we are and what's important."
  • Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc., and author of Finding the Next Steve Jobs "The future belongs to enterprises that learn how to value individual employees and individual students, and Dr. Rose's eye-opening account of the fascinating new science of the individual shows a practical path to the adoption of individuality."
  • Jim Shelton, Chief Impact Officer, 2U, Inc., and former United States Deputy Secretary of Education "A must read for anyone who serves or creates solutions for other human beings. It serves not only as a guide for how to rethink our systems but in many ways is the best self-help book I've ever read."
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