You're Probably Sub-Average

Bell curve may misrepresent human performance
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2012 3:21 PM CDT

(Newser) – We tend to think of human performance as fitting a bell curve: Most people's output is about average, while there are a few outliers who are either extremely talented or very much the opposite. But people might not work that way, a new study suggests. Researchers analyzed the performance of four very different kinds of people—athletes, academics, entertainers, and politicians—and found a healthy dose of outliers. Meanwhile, "a small minority of superstar performers contribute a disproportionate amount of the output," said a researcher.

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Most subjects' work fell below the mathematical average, NPR reports. For instance, some 80% of Emmy nominees received fewer nominations than the mean number. But a minority picked up a disproportionately-sized chunk of the nods. In the end, the researchers say, the bell-curve notion may only apply when external constraints are involved. "If you had a superstar performer working at your factory, well, that person could not do [a] better job than the assembly line would allow," says one of the investigators. The take-home message: Countries and companies should keep an eye out for such "superstars," who will likely contribute a disproportionate amount to the group's output. (Read more average stories.)

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