I hesitate to write about this. After all, who wants to be a spokesperson for mediocrity? It is a much better career move to write something about the Search for Excellence. What about a new bestseller In Search of Mediocrity?
By mediocrity I mean the stuff that clusters nearer the middle, the mean, the median—in the centre of the bell curve. Mediocrity is ordinary. Neglecting for a moment, their mathematical differences, mediocrity is the average, the median, the ordinary churches, music, talent and intelligence. In short, here’s a word of encouragement, me and almost everybody around me.
We all hate to be thought of as ‘average’. We’d all – secretly, perhaps – like to be great, to stand out, live in the penthouse that looks out (and down) on the ordinary grunts. But most of us aren’t destined for the penthouse. We are sort of OK, or “pretty good considering” or even almost excellent at one or two things, but we’re not great. Many of us aren’t even average – we’re below the mean in almost anything we do from sports to playing the guitar to writing.
Our culture has persuaded us to imagine ourselves at the top edge of the bell curve – on the tiny tail of greatness. We were brought up that way by affirming parents. Most consider anything below an A or a B as failure. We’ve been taught to assume that outstandingness deserves nothing less than outstanding grades. It is what educators call an “A entitlement” which means if we simply turn up and do our best we should get an A grade.
I read the other day that someone tested this concept out in a class of students. Slips of paper were handed out asking each member of the class to rate their work as a percentage so far in the class compared to the rest of the students. Participation was anonymous; they folded the slip and handed it in. Results analysis revealed that 80% of the students considered themselves to be in the top 10% of the class and only a single student rated themselves average and nobody believed their work was below average. H’m.
Greatness, brilliance, intelligence are usually distributed more like the “normal distribution” of the bell curve. Only a few percentage points are on the outstanding tail—most of the rest of us are in the fatty bulge of ordinary people, in the middle or “mediocre.” Our culture has defined ordinary, average or mediocre as tantamount to failure.
So, let the mediocre, penguins huddling in the middle, ordinary people whose habitation is in the centre of the distribution chart, who don’t work on television, run countries, or manage giant, multibillion dollar corporations, with property ownership and ready cash to match, applaud their mediocrity today.
I should be able to create a dynamic spreadsheet to model the curve. I’m gonna try.