'Don't Aim for Average' - The truth about Statistics in Organizations (2-minute clip)

by The Architect on Jan 24, 2017

A reminder to be cautious of older 'time management' techniques that were developed to improve productivity in factories, not in a modern environment that requires creativity, communication, quick-thinking and developing others. Organizations can end up with a distorted view of Statistics.

A funny and sharp clip from 'Positive Psychology' advocater Shawn Achor.

"Don't aim for average - aim to RAISE the average."


When I first started to talk about this research, outside of academia, at companies and schools, the very first thing they said to never do is to start your talk with a graph.

The very first thing I want to do is start my talk with a graph.

Move up the average Graph

This graph looks boring, but it's the reason I wake up excited and get up every morning. And this graph doesn't even mean anything, it's fake data. (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

If I got this data back from you here sitting in the room I would be thrilled because there's very clearly a trend that's going on there and that means that I can get published. Which is all that really matters. (LAUGHS) The fact that there's one weird red dot that's up above the curve, there's one weird in the room, you know who you are, I saw you earlier... That's no problem. That's no problem, as most of you know because... I can just delete that dot. I can delete that dot because that's clearly a measurement error. And we know that's a measurement error... because it's messing up my data. (LAUGHS)

So one of the very first things that we teach people in economics and statistics and business and psychology causes is how in a statistically valid way do we eliminate the weirdos, how do we eliminate the outliers, so that we can find the line of best fit. Which is fantastic if I'm trying to find out how many Advil the average person should be taking (two).

Positive Outliers Can be a Positive Example

BUT, if I'm interested in Potential... if I'm interested in your Potential for Happiness, or Productivity, or Energy or Creativity, what we're doing is we're creating the Cult of the Average with science.

If I ask you a question like 'how fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?', scientists change the answer to 'how fast does the AVERAGE child learn to read in that classroom?' and then we tailor the class right towards the average.

Now if you fall BELOW the average on this curve, psychologists get thrilled. Because that means you're either depressed, or you have disorder, or hopefully both. (LAUGHS) We're hoping for both because our business model is if you come into a therapy session with one problem we wanna make sure you leave knowing you have 10. So you'll keep coming back over and over again. We'll go back into your childhood if necessary.

But eventually, what we want to do is to make you normal again. But normal is merely average. And what I posit and what positive psychology posits is that:

If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average

Instead of deleting those positive outliers what I intentionally do is come into a population like this one and say 'why? Why is is that some of you are so high above the curve in terms of your intellectual ability, athletic ability, musical ability, creativity, energy levels, your resiliency in the face of challenge, and your sense of humour?'

Whatever it is, instead of deleting you, what I want to do is study you.

Cause maybe we can glean new information, not just how to move people up to the average, but how we can move the entire average up.

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