Average Doesn’t Help Us

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Change |

vulnerability and average

The average of 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 4 is 3.

3 is also the average of 1, 20, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2.

As is the average of 1, 18, 1, 7, 2, 1, 4, 1, 1.

We often make the mistake of thinking our audience we are communicating with or seeking to influence is similar – like group 1 above. Slight variations in opinions, but generally the same.

Sometimes there a loud, vocal, ‘squeaky wheel’ who has a very different opinion or experience than the rest of the group – like group 2. If we pitch to the squeaky wheel, we tend to be irrelevant to the rest. If we pitch to the rest, we are irrelevant to the squeaky wheel.

Most groups are more likely to be like group three – much more variation. The average view point doesn’t help us much. No one holds it.

When communicating we have a few choices. Target the average view. Communicate individually. Or find a new audience – one that is seeking the message you are communicating.

The same applies to product design. And project design.

Here’s the thing. When we scale, we tend to look for the average, the mass, the things that are replicable. But imagine if the ’20’ in group 2, wasn’t a number. Imagine if the ’20’ was a person living with disability, or a single parent, or victim of rape. Imagine her for a moment and imagine the impact of designing projects and product that exclude her because she is the outlier. She is not average.

Average doesn’t help us or her. However, too often, we think of average because it makes our lives easier. It makes our systems works. And it allows us to ‘roll up’ our impact metrics globally and talk about how good we are.

The most vulnerable of our communities and our world are often the outliers, not the mainstream or the average.

Photo by Josh Appel

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