Book Reviews
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A Book Review: The End of Average by Todd Rose

After a couple of years of less focus on reading, I’ve been back on track with my old reading habits (as you can see on my Reading Challenge on Goodreads). I’ve especially been able to keep back track on some management eBooks that had been sitting for some time on my Kindle account, and will report on some of these over the next weeks.

This book was published in 2016, and has had a great success. I don’t recall exactly when I bought it, normally this happens when finding reference in an article or another book. In any case, am happy about the choice of buying it and reading it.

Todd Rose analyzes in this books the widespread perception that Individuals do not matter in a lot of domains, including design, management, education.

Quetelet’s invention of the Average Man marked the beginning of the Age of Average

He tracks down this to some major “mistakes” that affected the history of Social Science. The first is down to Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician, who was the first to use mathematical averages to identify common traits in human beings. His famous study on the soldiers’ average chests, has been the beginning of a major overhaul in how people where identified and treated in social sciences.

Average, and later on Ranking (that the author refers together as Averagarianism) have created a revolution in Social Science, that led to the birth of Scientific Management and Taylorism, with the consequence that systems came first, and man (reduced to parts of efficiency) needed to adapt to the system.

Typing and ranking have come to seem so elementary, natural, and right that we are no longer conscious of the fact that every such judgement erases the individuality of the person being judged.

Even if Taylorism is now seems as a negative word by many (and this view has been consolidated in the last decades), it’s true that many basic assumptions are still existing. Most of Talent Management, argues Rose, is still based on the assumption that we can summarize individuals in one “number” (make it potential, performance or an average of the two). Forced rankings are still a default in many organizations, and continue to cause issues. This can be seen also in the continuous use of personality testing, that tend all to reduce individuals to a “fit” organized on a number of different dimensions (and way too often just to adhere to what the manager wants).

One of the key concepts introduced is that of “Jaggedness”. Two people with same IQ can have, in reality, two very difficult profiles. And it’s the gaps that make the uniqueness of the individual, vs. the “average” identified by the IQ score alone.

Another area explored, is the effect of this approach on Education and Training. All the educational systems are framed to get people to adapt to an “average” curriculum, instead of allowing individuals to find their own paths and bloom.

One of the most interesting consequences of “Averagarianism”, is the link with Diversity and Inclusion practices. The concept itself of “Equal Access”, comments the author, is an averagarian solution to an averagarian problem. Stating that we need x% of women simply to reflect an average of the population, again forces people to “fit” an average solution, which in the long term does not allow for real opportunities to be achieved.

Great book and reading overall, supported by a very well documented bibliographical research.

What’s in it for me?

I think that a the key concept (and solution proposed by the author) is the fact that at the end if we all look at our own life, we all walk the road less travelled. If I see my personal career, I have done many things that do not “fit” a traditional HR curriculum. And I am aware that this is actually and advantage both for my profession and how I’ve been able to contribute to the business.

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I am an experienced and innovative HR professional dedicated in improving the way organizations achieve results through their people. Over the years I have worked on many projects in different HR domains, gaining a deep understanding of all key HR processes, from Talent Management to Recruiting, from Organizational Design to Leadership Development, from HR Transformation to HR & Payroll Systems implementation at International level. Working with Fashion Brands, leading retailer as well as, through consulting, international brands in industries like Banking, Manufacturing, Professional Services at both Headquarter and local level. Last but not least I consider myself an eclectic and creative personality, with many interests ranging from technology to arts and poetry.

2 Comments

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