Rose (Director, Mind, Brain, and Education Program/Harvard Univ.; Square Peg: My Story and What it Means for Raising Innovators, Visionaries, and Out-of-the-Box Thinkers, 2013) rejects the faulty benchmark of average and advocates for principles of individuality in schools and businesses.
The author opens with an account of U.S. Air Force pilots in the late 1940s who found that they could not retain control of the faster and more complicated jet-powered airplanes. The problem, which was costly to the Air Force in both equipment and personnel, was found to be rooted in the design of the planes’ cockpits, which had been created uniformly for the “average pilot,” a person who only existed in a statistical aggregate. After extensive research, when the Air Force adopted the guiding principle of individual fit—adjustable seats, foot pedals, helmet straps, and flight suits—the matter was solved, planes ceased crashing, and pilot performance skyrocketed. Springboarding from this provocative anecdote, Rose, a pioneer in the new “science of the individual,” argues that while average is a useful concept when discussing groups of people, it is a useless measurement with regard to individuals and should be abandoned. From its beginnings with a Belgian astronomer in the early 19th century, Rose traces the evolution of average as a measurement as well as its pervasive infiltration into schools and the workplace in the forms of GPAs, standardized testing, performance reviews, and personality tests. He then turns his attention to the principles that underlie the emergent science of individuality to speak to the complexities belied by “averagarian” thinking. Finally, he provides a handful of examples of companies whose commitment to its employees as individuals forms the bedrock of their success, and he speaks to the shortcomings of our current higher educational system, touching lightly on alternative approaches.
An intriguing view into the evolution and imperfections of our current system but lacking a clear path toward implementing the proposed principles of individuality.