Fredrick Taylor’s book, The Principles of Scientific Management, was a huge success as it swept across all the world’s capitalistic industries and countries. In some cases, such as in the communist regimes in Russia and Asia, standardization was taking to even higher levels in Stalin’s 5 Year Plans and Toyota’s system of “Just in Time”. Today, Taylor’s scientific management philosophy remains the most dominant business philosophy in every industrialized country in the world.
According to Todd Rose’s book, The End of Average, back in 1900, U.S. factories needed semi-skilled workers. However, only 6% of the American population had graduated from high school at that time. And more and more immigrants were washing up on our shores every day. At that time in our history a real crisis of not enough skilled laborers was developing. Thus, Taylor work place practices of standardization came to save the day by trickling down to our American educational system to supply our factories with the workers they needed. A standard education eventually won out over a holistic one, and students were educated all the same exact way, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities or interest. Like their parents in the factories, they had been automated in the schools, graduation rates soared, and it seemed like once again, averagarianism and standardization had been successful.
In the Age of Average the next Quetelet disciple to come along was Edward Thorndike. In his book Rose states that Thorndike was one of the most influential psychologist of all time. He helped invent educational psychology and educational psychometrics. He established the mission of schools and colleges. His mentor at Harvard, William James, called him a freak of nature for his workaholic productivity. Thorndike embraced Galton’s ideas of separating and ranking students, as well as Taylor’s standardization. Thorndike believe the purpose of schools wasn’t to educate all students to the same level, but to sort them according to their innate level of talent and proper stations in life.
Thus, due to the influence of Quetelet, Galton, Taylor, Thorndike and others, today all of our social institutions ignore people’s own unique individuality and assess people in terms of their relationship to the average or how closely they approximate the average and how far they are able to exceed it.
Now, to be perfectly clear, Rose believes that the Age of Average wasn’t a complete disaster. Rose admits that it made us productive enough in our schools and factories to become a world leader. However, it did cost us something too. Now society compels us to conform to certain narrow expectations in order to succeed in school, work and life. We all strive to be like everyone else, but only better. Sadly, our uniqueness has become an obstacle.
Fortunately, along comes another averagarianism scientist named Peter Molenaar who would eventually shake up the Age of Average. Molenaar came to realize that the bible of testing, Statistical Theories of Mental Test Scores, concealed the thread that would unravel averagarianism. Molenaar recognized the fatal flaw of averagarianism was in its paradoxical assumption that you could only understand individuals by ignoring their individuality. He named this error “The Ergodic Switch”.
According to ergodic theory, one can only use group averages if every member of the group is identical and will remain the same in the future. It should be pretty obvious to all us by now that complex human beings are not ergodic.
The funny thing is that no one disputed Molenaar’s math. What they did respond with however, was, “What you are proposing is anarchy!” They also responded with, “If we can’t use averages to evaluate, model, and select individuals, well then… what do we use?”
So, what do you use? And how do you feel about our social institutions ignoring people’s own unique individuality and only assessing people in terms of their relationship to the average or how closely they approximate the average and how far they are able to exceed it? Can we do better? Can you do better?
Dan Blanchard is an award-winning author, speaker and educator. To learn more about Dan please visit his website at: www.DanBlanchard.net. Thanks.