Only 50% of Us Are Above Average


I tweeted this last night

“For whatever reason, we are driven to apply outlier practices to middle-of-the-road companies and expect outlier results.”

And if you’re reading this post. There’s a really good chance that you are not an outlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of outliers. Outliers provide us with directional cues as to what’s possible. Without outliers we wouldn’t know that a four-minute mile was possible. Without outliers we wouldn’t know landing on the moon was possible. But the reality is very few of us individually, or as corporations, are outliers. That is axiomatic. Outliers are, well, outliers. And rare.

Yet research has shown when asked, 90% of people believe themselves to be above average. Which we all know is impossible. I believe that same hopeful thinking extends to the organization as well. Many believe they work at a company that is above average. If the employees themselves don’t, I’m pretty sure the leadership – those with assigned parking places – do. I also think that many of those same companies and leaders think adopting outlier tactics will make them an outlier company.

The reality is outlier tactics work for outliers because they are already outliers.

The unfortunate part about trying to be an outlier when you’re not, is when you apply outlier tactics you’re hurting the company more than you’re helping. Applying outlier tactics that don’t work as planned, creates a focus on the fact that your company is simply average. No one wants to hear they are average.

I understand the desire to be an outlier and wanting to be the next company that INC magazine talks about, or some guru blogs about, or someone at a SHRM concurrent session uses as an outlier example – but I wonder if it’s better to be more cautious and not apply the newest fad to your organization. Unless you’re positive your organization can handle the truth. And that truth is you are not from Lake Wobegone. You are not above average and you’re not all good-looking.

I stated in my FistfulOfTalent post the other day that the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people he didn’t exist. I think there’s also another trick out there. And that is convincing people and companies they can be outliers when they can’t.

Take a look at your organization and do what’s right for you based on the reality of who you are and what your organization is.

By all means, learn about and experiment with some of the tactics that outlier companies are using. But apply them in a smart way so that it doesn’t backfire on you. Do it in a way that allows it to be billed as an experiment or a learning experience as opposed to a wholesale transformation of the company. It just won’t work.

I’ll say it again – applying outlier tactics to middle-of-the-road companies will not give you outlier results. You may actually make things worse.

Have a great weekend. Aren’t you glad you read my post today?

2 responses to “Only 50% of Us Are Above Average”

  1. […] the whole post over at What Is Paul Thinking? (an FOT contributor […]


  2. […] the whole post over at What Is Paul Thinking? (an FOT contributor […]


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