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The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness Hardcover – January 19, 2016
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From the Publisher
A Conversation with Todd Rose, Author of The End of Average
Q: In your introduction to The End of Average, you say that the hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas but letting go of old ones, and that the goal of this book is to liberate readers, once and for all, from the tyranny of the average. What is it exactly that you think we need to be freed from, and why is it so important to you that you get this message out?
Todd Rose: There are certain ideas, like this idea of the average person, that are so deeply ingrained in our society— everything from how we think about newborns and whether they're healthy, to the way we structure schools and workplaces, to the way we practice medicine, and so on—that we don't even question some basic assumptions. We see the challenges that are facing our society and we know that we want things like personalized medicine and personalized education and better workplace environments, but we've not really realized that at the root of those problems is a basic idea of how we see ourselves as people. My hope is to use this book to start a conversation that surfaces this basic assumption we've made about human potential, and help people to see that it's actually the thing that's holding us back.
Q: Tell us a little about the beginning of The End of Average, where you talk about how the average became the normal way to measure individuals, and the stereotypes that were validated with the "imprints of science," as you say.
Todd Rose: This whole idea of an average person happened in the mid-ninetieth century, when countries were trying to figure out how to govern rapidly growing populations. There was no science of society, no social science. And it was a French astronomer named Adolphe Quetelet who came up with the idea. He basically asked himself, "If we were all astronomers and we were trying to measure the speed of Saturn, we would all get slightly different measurements, but which one is right?" It turns out, more or less, if you average together all the speeds, the average is usually the best estimate. In astronomy, that thinking turns out to be true most of the time. So by Quetelet's logic, he figured if the average is right in astronomy, we could stop worrying about the muddle of individual people and just average them out to make an average man. He actually coined the term "the average man". He believed this thinking to be so true that any deviation from average was a monstrosity. So this became the foundation for bureaucracies, and then it slowly made its way into the rest of social science, and this thinking continues unabated today—in our education systems with GPAs and test scores, in our companies with performance reviews and hiring processes, in our healthcare system with the way we treat patients, and on and on.
Q: Tell us about your three principles for understanding individuals: the Jaggedness Principle, the Context Principle, and the Pathways Principle. They seem to really succinctly capture a very helpful way of thinking about what to do next.
Todd Rose: Basically, if we are going to say that average doesn't work and it's not type or rank that we should be looking at, then how do you understand individuals? This is the science I'm a part of, and we focus on three principles: Jaggedness, Context, and Pathways. We look for patterns about the individuals themselves in those principles. I go into detail about each in the book.
“[S]ubversive and readable. . . . What has been called the new science of the individual.” (New York Times)
“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.” (Amy Cuddy, professor at Harvard Business School, and author of Presence)
“[Rose’s] personal experiences are recounted hearteningly in his book. That alone makes it a worthwhile read for the aspiring nonconformist.” (The Guardian)
“An intriguing view into the evolution and imperfections of our current system . . .” (Kirkus Reviews)
“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.” (Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals)
“Consistently mind-blowing!” (Dan Heath, co-author of the New York Times bestsellers Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive)
“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.” (Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell Is Human and Drive)
“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.” (Howard Gardner, author of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed)
“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.” (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)
“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.” (Seth Godin, author of We Are All Weird and Stop Stealing Dreams)
“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.” (Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari, Inc., and author of Finding the Next Steve Jobs)
“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.” (Jim Shelton, Chief Impact Officer, 2U, Inc., and former United States Deputy Secretary of Education)
From the Back Cover
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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Top Customer Reviews
The author does a very good job of explaining new and what would otherwise be confusing ideas. I cannot wait to see how the world will change in response to our disillusionment.
Rose begins with his life story and proceeds to describe the implications of human variability to problems in education and the workplace. Humans are complex with “jagged “measurements of sizes, skills and traits. Averages don't represent cultural ideals. Our measured self is not constant as we generate different numeric values in different social contexts. Just like fitting the pilot into the cockpit, fitting the individual into society is always an art not a science and requires many adjustable parts.
Todd Rose gives a Ted Talk about The Myth of Average. It is a great talk, but it doesn't do the book justice. I purchased this in a hardcover version as I knew I would be referring to this book over and over as I do my best to find ways to support my kids, my co-workers and myself so we all can be the best we can be.
Thank you Todd Rose for sharing so much of your own story and using your wonderfully unique brain to make this world more user-friendly. I hope that parents and educators will read this book and understand that a child who is not "living up to expectations" may be doing the best they can in a cockpit that isn't designed for them, and that the changes that need to be made may be in the environment and not in the child.
Reading this will change your view -- and if it doesn't, you really haven't grasped the point: we are unique individuals with individual talents. And yes we are part of a larger society with responsibilities --- but we are not numbers and standard "deviations."
Please Read It.
As a career consultant with over 1000 clients who writes on courage and promotes individual, authentic growth and outcomes, I am now in my fourth, fifth and sixth careers (previously management consultant, diplomat, professor). So my own experience and work, as well as my clients', experiences support this significant work by Todd Rose.