The real law of averagesIf you want to raise the standards of any group, improving the top of the heap isn't nearly as effective as focusing your effort on the base instead.Simple example: Getting a Prius to go from 50 miles per gallon to 55 miles per gallon isn't nearly as important as getting SUVs to go from 10 miles per gallon to 15. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there are a lot more SUVs than Priuses. The second is that they use far more gallons, so a percentage increase has far more yield. (You can't average averages).If you care about health and a culture of performance, it's tempting to push Olympic athletes to go just a tenth of a second faster. It's far more effective, though, if you can get 3,000,000 kids to each spend five more minutes a day walking instead of sitting.Organizations pamper and challenge the few in the executive suite, imagining that one more good decision in the biz dev group could pay off. The thing is, if every one of the 10,000 customer-facing employees was more engaged and kind, it would have a far bigger impact on the company and those it serves.I think the reason we focus on the few is that it feels more dramatic, seems more controllable and is ultimately easier. But the effective, just and important thing to do is to help the back of the line catch up.
For those who are unfamiliar with the definition of the "Law of Averages," here is an excerpt from the "Wikipedia" page:
The law of averages is the law that a particular outcome or event is inevitable or certain simply because it is statistically possible. Depending on context or application it can be considered a valid common-sense observation or a misunderstanding of probability. This notion can lead to fallacious thinking when one becomes convinced that a particular outcome must come soon simply because it has not occurred recently (e.g. believing that because three consecutive coin flips yielded heads, the next coin flip must be virtually guaranteed to be tails).As invoked in everyday life, the "law" usually reflects wishful thinking or a poor understanding of statistics rather than any mathematical principle. While there is a real theorem that a random variable will reflect its underlying probability over a very large sample, the law of averages typically assumes that unnatural short-term "balance" must occur. Typical applications also generally assume no bias in the underlying probability distribution, which is frequently at odds with the empirical evidence.
Seth Godin makes use of the "Law of Averages" in different contexts than is traditionally used. Which makes the blog post more thought provoking. Reading widely gives a person higher chance of stumbling upon some hidden gems. This is a good example.
Motivating change is not easy on any level. But as Seth alludes to, going after the majority to motivate a smaller change is larger than pursuing a smaller (but perceived to be more influential) minority is true in a variety of areas of society. This is good food for thought for advocacy - in terms of 'grass roots' efforts. Incorporating the 'law of averages' into our thinking while attempting to change the world would indeed do us some noticeable change. Imagine the impact of pursuing a small amount of people for a small change instead of a larger group of people for a large change.