The Broken Bell Curve

Social NetworkThe Broken Bell Curve

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.

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