During the holidays, thanks to the recommendation from several Laboratorians, I read The End of Average. It’s an excellent read for those of us whose work is related to learning and talent or who are simply questioning the assumptions that are behind our systems.
We live in a world where education and work are designed for “the average.” However, the average does not really exist. Why?
First off, because our skills are multi-dimensional. They are diverse and not necessarily correlated to each other. Being categorized as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ students based on where we are in relation to a generic average ignores the complexities that make each of us unique. Even worse, this categorization begins to open or close doors for us from a very young age. I, myself, was a “bad” student for several years, carrying that label with me along with its consequences: a system that believes that you aren’t capable, teachers that bet on less for you, and you, yourself, beginning to believe that the pathway of that “bad” student is your destiny.
Secondly, because the way we act is always a combination of our own characteristics and the particular context in which we find ourselves. The interaction between these two things alone can explain our actions. We don’t always act one way or another - it all depends on the context in which we find ourselves. That is why, through some initiatives and on some teams we shine, while on others, we are far from shining. Understanding this is key in order to be able to create environments that allow each individual to reach their potential.
Finally, because there are many paths that lead to a final goal. There is not one correct path towards learning, towards gaining new skills or building an amazing career. Arriving more quickly is not necessarily better. The right amount of time and the right path depends entirely on who we are.
It is not not easy, but it is possible, and most importantly it is essential if we want a more inclusive world. Talent is not something that is permanently fixed. It is something that is built up if we are in the right environment. At Laboratoria, we witness this on a daily basis: Talent within companies not reaching its potential because the work environment is a response to a different kind of average. Life stories and experiences of women being compared to “standard” candidates and therefore not checking off all the boxes that would allow them to obtain certain salaries or positions. Women who, in the right kind of environment, develop their full potential and prove that the standard requirements are becoming increasingly irrelevant.
Expanding this vision is no small feat yet it is exciting. We are entering 2020 along with hundreds of women and companies to work on it together.