The End of Average summary

The End of Average is a book with a radical theory. That the idea of an average life or an average person is nonsense.

In a short, but fascinating book, he sets out to tackle the myth of average and what we should focus on instead.

This seems like counter-intuitive advice. Averages are so entrenched in society we’ve come to accept the notion of the average student or the average person.

Yet, they’re often wrong. What averages don’t take into account is the uniqueness of the individual.

We’re all different in our own way from one another. You might be smaller than me, while I may be faster than someone else.

If we average out this across 100 people, we won’t find the average measurement for humans, we’ll just find the average of those 100 people.

Measurements which may not apply to the majority of people.

This The End of Average summary will look at the most interesting aspects of this theory and explain how the idea of an average is misleading.

The End of Average summary

  • 1-sentence summary: The End of Average examines the flaws of basing systems and ideas around the average life or person.
  • Author: Todd Rose
  • Pages: 246
  • Year published: 2015
  • Rating: 9/10

Takeaway 1 – The average person does not exist

During the late 1940s, the US Air Force had a big problem. Very few of its pilots could keep control of their planes. With planes now jet-powered, mishaps and accidents were more common than ever before.

Pilots were baffled as were the leading figures in the air force. The pilots were also convinced they were not the cause of the problem. After multiple inquiries, attention toward the cockpit.

“Back in 1926, when the army was designing its first-ever cockpit, engineers had measured the physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots (the possibility of female pilots was never a serious consideration), and used this data to standardise the dimension of the cockpit.

For the next three decades, the size and shape of the seat, the distance to the pedals and stick, the height of the windshield, even the shape of the flight helmets were all built to conform to the average dimensions of a 1926 pilot.”

Military engineers wondered whether pilots had become bigger since 1926. They decided to find out. Researchers at Wright Air Force Base in Ohio measured more than 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions of size, including thumb length, crotch height, and the distance from a pilot’s eye to his ear, and then calculated the average for each of these dimensions. 

One man wasn’t convinced this study, which aimed to create a better fitting cockpit, would succeed. His name was Lieutenant Gilbert S. Daniels.

Daniels calculated the average of ten physical dimensions determined to be the most relevant for the design of a cockpit, including height, chest circumference, and sleeve length from 4,603 pilots.

These measurements formed the dimensions of the ‘average pilot.’ Daniels defined this average as someone whose measurements were within the middle 0 percent of the range of values for each dimension.

Out of the 4,063 pilots, not a single one fit within the average range on all ten dimensions.

Focusing on the average person is a strategy that’s doomed to fail.

Takeaway 2 – We should embrace individuality

One of the things I disliked about school was the uniformity of it. Teachers assumed we’d all learn in a similar fashion rather than in our own individual way.

In fairness, they did introduce us to ways different people internalise information such as visually, through reading or experience.

But looking back, I realise I learn through all three of these methods. I’m not exclusively in one category or another.

What works for one person might not work for someone else.

One of the most effective ways I learned in school was to read the textbooks from back to front. I read the whole history textbook in this manner, including the parts we weren’t tested on.

Come exam time I was prepared and did much better than my teachers thought I would.

Just because this worked for me doesn’t mean it would have worked for everyone else. We each have our own foibles and mannerisms.

Reading a textbook might bore some people to death. While others, like myself, are able to internalise what we read.

Everyone learns differently. Instead of trying to impose what we deem to be best practices on everyone else, we should strive to help people figure out what works best for them.

Takeaway 3 – Workplaces that remove individuality are dehumanising

One of the biggest industries in the world is manufacturing. If you’ve heard of Ford, you’ll be aware they were one of the first automobile companies to introduce a production line.

This was a concept dreamt up by Frederick Taylor and came to be known as Taylorism. He determined businesses were losing out if they prioritised individualism ahead of the production line.

Workers should be cogs in the machine instead of self-directed individuals. Managers at the factory where Taylor worked were sceptical at first, but once they saw the results, they were convinced.

Soon enough a tipping point was reached and Taylorism led to a system of work which is still in place today.

A lot of workers around the world go to work every day and sit in a production line performing the same task over and over again.

While this may be efficient for the company, it’s dehumanising for the individual. As much as some business owners may want us to be, we’re not robots.

Performing the same tasks day after day is monotonous and demeaning. I experienced something similar in my old office job.

We had to sift through insurance complaints all day every day. While it wasn’t as boring as working on a production line, it wasn’t much better.

We had little scope for imposing ou own practices on the job and little motivation to achieve more than the bare minimum.

This was compounded by working under a manager who did nothing but check on our stats and provide ‘motivation.’ For effectively sitting on his arse all day and ‘managing’ us, he was paid without doing any meaningful work.

Human behaviour isn’t fixed, it’s fluid. Managers and companies seem to forget this. Instead of imposing limits, targets and grades, they should focus on the unique abilities everyone brings to the job.

By doing this, workers can drive the company forward instead of resenting the work they do.

Favourite quotes

  • “From the cradle to the grave, you are measured against the everpresent yardstick f the average, judged according to how closely you approximate it or how far you are able to exceed it.”
  • “But the moment you need a pilot, or a plumber, or a doctor, the moment you need to teach this child or decide whether to hire that employee – the moment you need to make a decision about any individual – the average is useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because it creates the illusion of knowledge, when in fact the average disguises what is most important about an individual.”
  • “If you spend a few moments thinking about it, it’s not actually clear what the significance of ‘average size’ is. Is it a rough guide to the size of normal human beings? An estimate of the size of a randomly selected person? Or is there some kind of deeper fundamental meaning behind the number?”
  • “Our uniqueness has become a burden, an obstacle, or a regrettable distraction on the road to success.”

The End of Average review

My The End of Average summary has looked at this interesting book by Todd Rose.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started to read this book, but the more I got into it, the more I was plasantly surprised.

Rose looks at a concept we’re all aware of but have accepted without too much thought.

I’ve never wondered whether referring to the average is wrong. I’d always assumed there was a benefit to it.

Throughout the course of the book I came to question this belief and see the merits of tailoring things to the individual instead.

If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. We’re all different in our own way. Very few of us conform to an average in any category.

What Rose’s book shows is how the idea of the average came to be dominant in society and the downsides of this approach.

Along with The Black Swan, this is one of those books which changed my thinking. I wish he’d gone more in-depth in certain areas, but it’s still a great book nonetheless.

Who should read The End of Average?

Anyone who runs a company should read this book. Along with Shoe Dog, it will provide you with a lot of useful information.

If you’re studying or want to learn how to incorporate useful habits into your life, the book will be a worthwhile read too.