We Can’t All Be Above Average

Ask a roomful of people to raise a hand if they’re an above average driver. I can reliably tell you that more than half of the room is going to raise their hand. So what do we do with this information?

Let’s start with what we can call it.

According to Tali Sharot, our default setting is to have “private optimism” and “public despair.”

Privately (to ourselves) we’re optimistic about our skills (“I’m obviously an above average driver”), and publicly (towards others) we cast despair on their relative abilities (“these drivers are terrible!”).

Now that we know the name for it, we can move onto applying it for ourselves and with others (leaders and managers, I’m looking at you).

For ourselves, we can ask what the average really is. That will require reflection and possibly a little math.  Knowing we’ll be biased for optimism means we may need to revise our expectations downwards. The goal becomes to realistically temper our confidence.

Also, once we understand “average,” we can discern how best to stand out (ex. understand how to be good different vs. bad different), or blend in (ex. protect our reputation by blending in with our peers).

For others, we should remember that the group is a broader version of ourselves, just multiplied. For any individual, we want to help them to understand what “average” is, how to set and adjust expectations, and how to either excel relative to the group or survive within the group.

These insights can be incredibly motivating when framed correctly, both for ourselves and others.

Do check out Tali Sharot’s work, she just did an excellent interview with Ted Seides on Capital Allocators.

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