NPR: Most of Us Are Below Average

So says NPR News, anyway. Leave aside how this confuses the notion of central tendency. And yes, please do read the article for a more detailed treatment of this pattern of thinking. Here’s the graf that got me:

More than 80 percent of all Emmy nominated entertainers, for example, fell below the mean in terms of the number of nominations they received. A small but sizable minority, meanwhile, enjoyed outsize success and accounted for a disproportionately large number of Emmy nominations.

Now, consider that one group is completely left out of this sample: people who will never be nominated for Emmys. Now who’s the superstar? Pretty much anyone ever nominated for an Emmy. (h/t ACE)

Update: Drew Eginton (via Facebook) makes an interesting addition:

I thought it was a very odd set of conclusions, as though the authors don’t understand that the correlation of ability and output are not linear. I think that’s all they’re saying: that someone who’s ability ranking is 90% higher than the mean is not 1.9x more productive, but rather 100x more productive, than the mean. Which is a commonplace insight.

And so when we watch a Bryce Harper, we realize that he is not sorta better than 10,000 other 19 year-old professional ballplayers (measured along some simple curve) he is logarithmically better. Which is very different than saying he doesn’t occupy a predictable place on a bell curve of ability. It’s just that that curve is so convex, and nearly vertical, by the time we move from the 99.9th percentile to 99.9999th percentile.

Most great organizations explicitly search for the 100x’rs, and cut them loose to perform; most bureaucracies solve for 1.2x’rs. (“… all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are … above average.”)