The Paradox of Equal Differences

What we have in common is our uniqueness. Every human being has a unique set of hard-wired strengths and abilities. Everyone has them. In that way, we are all the same. Yet in each person, their particular set of strengths and abilities may be different from those of other people. The paradox is that what we have in common is also what makes us different. When we treat all people as being the same without recognizing the differences in how they think, learn and behave because of these hard-wired traits and abilities, their potential is lost or misdirected.

Human beings share other characteristics such as height, weight, physical strength, and agility. Obviously, these vary, often dramatically from person to person. Sports provide an excellent example of matching a person’s height, weight, physical strength, and agility to the various demands of different sports. The ideal sumo wrestler will not succeed as a pole vaulter. While all people have the same set of characteristics, the nature of how those characteristics appear in each individual and how well their particular characteristics match what is needed for a particular sport determines how likely they are to succeed in that role. Unfortunately, while such things are clear in the world of sports, they are tragically missed in the wider worlds of education, employment, and government policy.

Ironically, the way to effectively address inequality in employment and education is by recognizing the unique strengths and abilities of each individual, which are usually different and often unequal.

These strengths and abilities of a person can be easily measured and converted into normative DATA which in turn, can be used to describe that individual’s capability to perform any specific job behavior. The same DATA can be used to describe a student’s facility with any specific area of study. The extraordinary insight from this information is that the value or potential of any person’s strengths and abilities varies dramatically depending upon what they are asked to do.

For example: Being seven feet (2.5 meters) tall is an advantage on the basketball court. Working in a coal mine, however, that same height becomes a major disadvantage. Similarly, hard-wired personality traits can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending upon the situation or job.

The characteristic of height ranges from one extreme (short) to the other extreme (tall), with most people being in the middle (average). Hard-wired personality traits are also found in the population as a normal distribution (a bell curve). There are extremes on either end of the curve with about 50% of the people being in the middle. One of these traits is called openness to new experiences. At one end of the scale, individuals are always searching for new ideas and new ways to do things. Innovation is their way of life. They cannot stop innovating. When placed into jobs or courses of study that depend upon consistency or compliance with established rules and procedures, they struggle. Even achieving average results requires an extraordinary effort for them. Individuals at the other end of the scale believe there is a “right way” to do things. They dislike change or innovation and instead, work to standardize their work, remaining true to conventional ways. For them, clear procedures and processes are essential. Their concept of “innovation” is so incremental as to be almost unnoticed. The individuals on either extreme may be brilliant and hard-working, but the fact is that when their strengths do not fit the job or the course of study, their true potential is unrealized. When those strengths are understood, people can be directed away from poorly fitting roles. The reality is that there are a finite number of situations that do not fit any person. There are an infinite number of situations that do fit, either adequately or extremely well.

Why Understanding This Is Critical

Imagine being four and a half feet tall (1.3 m) and hearing that basketball was the game of the future. You are told that if you wanted to succeed in life, playing basketball well was the answer. How would you feel? What could you do?

Today, it is common to hear innovation touted as the key to the future. Jobs will be changing and people must be innovative if they are to succeed in that world. The facts are that only about one-third of the people are really innovative. Another third cannot be innovative at all. The other third can do it to some extent but it is limited. Being innovative is AN answer. It cannot be THE answer.

It is the same problem with any solution that assumes all people have the same ability to do things. Everyone has the ability to do some things. Policies can only be effective when the necessary actions are matched up with the capabilities of the people.

A New Language Is Needed

There must be a new model for describing the job behaviors that make up a job and which are necessary for success in that particular job. The same model must be used to describe the unique strengths and abilities that each person has. In that way, meaningful plans can connect with the capabilities of human resources to affect real change.

The true capabilities of students can be matched to courses of study that lead to viable employment, and those courses can be completed in the expected time frame. With their job capabilities clearly known, job seekers can explore vocational possibilities. Government programs can use that DATA to target the most productive training efforts for their workforce. Over the last decade, the level of data available in the world of sports has given managers the ability to make better decisions about how to use their players more effectively. Today, that is possible in the worlds of business and government. We stand on the verge of an extraordinary expansion of human potential. Recognizing and honoring the different hard-wired strengths and abilities of people will ultimately open the way to ending inequalities in employment and education.

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