The End of Average – Todd Rose

“If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet, and exercise into a single number or mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable… yet every day, teachers combine aspects students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort, and behavior into a single grade that’s recorded on a report card, and no one questions it.”

Ever thought about how we live in a world of average where we are constantly being compared to someone or something else? This book questions the average of everything. It forced me to think about the individual and an individual’s qualities. Why make the system fit you? How can a society predicated on the conviction that individuals can only be evaluated about the average ever create the conditions for understanding and harnessing individuality?

I learned so much from this book and I highly recommend it. Todd Rose is a great writer; the book is an easy read, and once you get what he’s trying to say, so many things become clearer. Super insightful. I highlighted over half the whole book, to be honest, but here are some key findings.


  1. There is no such thing as an average hand size.
  2. You are in trouble if you start to think about individuals as numbers to be optimized on average.
  3. If you wanted to design something for an individual human being, know that the average was completely useless.
  4. The way someone behaved always depended on both the individual and the situation. There was no such thing as a person’s “essential nature.” We are consistent within a given context. The context matters!
  5. Behavior is not determined by traits or the situation but emerges out of the unique interaction between the two. You need a new way of thinking that focuses on a person’s context-specific behavioral signatures rather than their “average tendencies” or “essential nature” because there are times when someone can be seen as an aggressive person in one context but not in another. Again, context matters.
  6. 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. Whether it be in school, college, getting a job, or even financial opportunities, you’re always put against the average.
  7. Character is no different from any human behavior: it is meaningless to talk about it in the absence of context. Treat individuals with respect, as individuals, and you will get out more than what you put in.
  8. Treat individuals with respect, as individuals, and you will get out more than what you put in.
  9. Most of us know intuitively that our score, performance review, or even standardized tests don’t reflect our abilities. Yet the concept of average as a yardstick for measuring individuals that has been so thoroughly ingrained in our minds that we rarely question it seriously.
  10. We accept that it represents some kind of objective reality about people.
  11. The moment you need to make a decision about any individual – the average is useless. It creates the illusion of knowledge, when in fact the average disguises what is most important about an individual.
  12. Today we have the ability to understand individuals and their talents on a level that was not possible before.
  13. People who feel they have unrecognized and untapped potential, who are not getting the chance to show what they are truly capable of, should be able to live up to their unmet expectations.
  14. Though today we don’t think an average person is perfection, we do presume that an average person is prototypical representation of a group – a type.
  15. We all feel the pressure to strive to rise as far above average as possible. Much of the time, we don’t even think about what exactly we’re trying so hard to be above average at.
  16. It seems as though the aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.
  17. We are each evaluated according to how closely we approximate the average – or how far we are able to exceed it.
  18. We all strive to be like everyone else, only better.
  19. The system should not matter more than you.
  20. In our jobs and in school we are told there is one right way to get things done, and if we pursue an alternate course, we are often told that we are misguided, naive, or just plain wrong.
  21. You are allowed to use a group average to make predictions about individuals if two conditions are true: 1) every member of the group is identical and 2) every member of the group will remain the same in the future.
  22. Using a group average to evaluate individuals would only be valid if human beings were frozen clones, identical and unchanging.
  23. Individuals should not be reduced to a single score.
  24. Averagarianism forces our thinking into incredibly limiting patterns – patterns that we are largely unaware of because the opinions we arrive at seem to be so self-evident and rational.
  25. The jaggedness principle holds that we cannot apply one-dimensional thinking to understand something that is complex jagged.
  26. A quality is jagged if it meets two criteria. The first is, it must consist of multiple dimensions and the second is that these dimensions must be weakly related to one another. Every human characteristic is jagged.
  27. All of this leads to one obvious question: If human abilities are jagged, why do so many psychologists, educators, and business executives continue to use one-dimensional thinking to evaluate talent?
  28. The real difficulty is not finding new ways to distinguish talent – it is getting rid of the one-dimensional blinders that prevented us from seeing it all along.
  29. When we are able to appreciate the jaggedness of other people’s talents, we are more likely to recognize their untapped potential, to show them how to use their strengths, and to identify and help them improve their weaknesses.
  30. Recognizing our jaggedness is the first step to understanding our full potential and refusing to be caged in by arbitrary, average-based pronouncements of whom we are expected to be.
  31. When we believe someone belongs to a certain group or type, we form conclusions about their personalities and behavior.
  32. Once you see how performance depends on context, and how recruiting should be focused on matching individuals to optimal contexts, it just seems like common sense. This is called performance-based hiring. Instead of describing the person they want, employers need to first describe the job they want to be done.
  33. Understanding and respect are the foundation of the positive relationships that are most likely to lead to our success and happiness.
  34. There is not one right way to grow, learn, or attain our goals. Thinking this way is known as “normative thinking.” If we hope to overcome the mental barrier of normative thinking, the first step is to see human pathways of development as they really are.
  35. 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.
  36. Today, we remain reluctant to grant students extra time to complete tests or assignments, believing that it is somehow unfair. But, it’s important to note, speed does not equal ability, and there are no fast or slow learners. By demanding students to learn at one fixed pace, we are artificially impairing the ability of many to learn and succeed.
  37. We are all special cases. Once you understand that, you will see yourself as you really are, not as the average says you should be. There may not be a million paths that will get you to where you want to go, but there will always be more than one pathway available to you and the odds are that the one that fits you, will be the one less traveled.
  38. All organizations are based upon fundamental assumptions about individuals, whether they know it or not.
  39. Believe that talent can be found in anyone if you look for it in the right way.
  40. If you give people flexible pathways, people evolve into lots of roles they would have never thought they were interested in.
  41. People are happiest when they have control over everything that’s important to them.
  42. You’re trading in uniqueness to be like everyone else, in the hope that you can be a little bit better at the thing that everybody else is also trying to be. But if you’re just playing the averages, then, on average, it won’t work.
  43. Credentials over degrees. Credentialing offers a more flexible and finer-grained level of certification of your skills, abilities, and knowledge. Pursue as few or as many credentials as you need to prepare for the career you want.
  44. Do we want a system that empowers each student to make her own choices?
  45. Jaggedness principle: allow students to figure out what they like, what they are good at, and what is the best way to pursue these interests.
  46. Context principle: evaluating students’ competency in a context as close as possible to the professional environment where they will actually perform.
  47. Pathways principle: allowing each student to learn at their own pace, and follow a sequence that is right for them.
  48. The present architecture of our higher education system is based on a false premise: that we need a standardized system to efficiently separate the talented from the talent.
  49. Fit creates opportunity. If the environment is a bad match with our individuality, our performance will always be artificially impaired.
  50. If we want equal opportunity for everyone, 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.
  51. The term “equal access” suffers from one major shortcoming: it aims to maximize individual opportunity on average by ensuring that everyone has access to the same standardized system, whether or not that system actually fits.
  52. We have a bright future before us, and it begins where the average ends.
  53. The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.
Be exactly who you are, not who the system tells you to be.
*I take no credit for any of these points.

Recommend me a book

No horror books, please!!