The Broken Bell Curve

Sea Shells by Inspirational.Images, on Flickr

We have been brainwashed to believe in the almighty bell-curve. Throughout our entire academic schooling, we ask “Will this be graded on a bell curve?” In business school we learn statistics, financial analysis and quantitive modeling – all use the bell curve. Six Sigma, the gold standard for process improvement,  holds the bell curve on a pedestal; allowing only only 3.4 defects per 1 million parts – making perfection the bell curve’s domain.

With all this brainwashing, we use the bell curve when we shouldn’t.  The bell curve is a probability distribution based on randomness – like throwing two dice at the Las Vegas craps table, sevens are thrown more often than snake-eyes (a two).  A person’s behavior is not random! It might feel random to you, when you “bump” into your neighbor while standing in-line at the airport.  If you both live in Los Angeles, you don’t drive to Colorado and then use the airport. Instead, you will both use the Los Angeles airport. So guess what? Every single time you analyze people, a community, a city, a club, a university, an institution, a non-profit agency, a government, a country, or any human-human activity you [highlight4]don’t get a bell curve[/highlight4]†.

So why do companies still measure a salesperson’s productivity by counting things? by trying to put defects on a bell curve? Companies count the number of phone calls, emails, appointments, call-backs, demos, letters, promotions, banner clicks, and on and on. Because that’s what you do when you want to grade salespeople on a bell-curve. 

Ask a salesperson. They’ll tell you its about the relationships. Success is about the depth and breadth of the relationship.

So start measuring relationships. Start measuring social graphs and social networks. STOP measuring with bell curves! Bell curves are more cracked than the Liberty Bell.


† Communities follow a power law scale free relationship.  This is the same as the 80/20 (Pareto) rule. Where 80% of your revenue only takes 20% of your effort; and the remaining 20% revenue takes 80% of your effort.

Three Steps to Innovation – When The Emperor Has No Clothes

The “Emperor has no clothes” strikes a chord, because it so aptly points out our human failings. Societal norms and group think effectively  make us fearful from speaking out. We want to fit in. But innovators are different. The very nature of innovation is to change. If you don’t speak out, then nothing changes. As the story tells us, we must find the child in ourselves and speak our mind. “Hey that man. He has no clothes!”

Even with new products, services and and new ways of doing business, we must often speak our mind. Here are three things you can do to drive innovation.

  1. Just Stop, Look and Think
    • If you don’t Stop and Look you won’t even see anything wrong. You’ll think it is normal to have a naked emperor.
    • Thinking is the most inexpensive thing you can do. You avoid costly mistakes.
    • Shouting “The Emperor has No Shoes!” does not have the same impact.
  2. Ideas are Cheap
    • Talk is cheap and so are ideas; if you don’t talk about your idea, it just doesn’t matter.
    • Everyone else is thinking the same thing. It’s obvious the emperor has no clothes. Who will talk first?
  3. Finally, Do Something
    • Speak out and let the world know. Build it. Share it.
    • You might not get it right the first time. Your voice might be timid. But with conviction you can be heard.
    • “The Emperor is Wearing a Broken Invisibility Cloak!”

* Image of Emperor Angelfish