As a graduate lecturer at the Harvard School of Education, Rose cares about implementing the principles of individuality that have been welcomed in recent medical and scientific research to a persons daily life. It is not uncommon to measure ourselves and others according to how closely we come to an ingrained system of yardstick averages. A parent may worry that there is something wrong with their daughter/son because she/he is ‘below average’. In his book, Rose sets about proving that there is no such thing as average intelligence or for that matter an average body size, average talent or average character.
A compelling example is the life-or-death mystery that the US Air Force had on its hands in the late 1940s. During the dawn of jet-powered aviation a recurring problem surfaced: pilots could not keep control of their planes. Military engineers confirmed that the issue was ‘pilot error’ since they could find no mechanical or electronic defects in the planes. This baffled the pilots who knew for sure that their skills were not the cause. Eventually attention was turned to the design of the cockpit itself, which had continued to be built in accordance to a set of averages derived from the physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots in 1926. Military engineers began to wonder if the pilots had grown bigger since 1926. An enormous investigation was reinstated, measuring and averaging thousands of pilots on 140 dimensions including thumb length, crotch height and the distance from a pilot’s eye to his ear.
A young researcher, Gilbert S. Daniels, was hired straight out of college, to help with the measuring of pilots’ limbs. Daniels found facilitating this ‘averages approach’ quite useless. As an undergraduate he had written his thesis on the comparison of the shape of 250 male Harvard students’ hands. He found that once he had averaged all his data, the average hand did not resemble any individual’s measurements and there was NO SUCH THING as an average hand size.
Harbouring a private conviction about the futility of averages that rejected almost a century of military design, Daniels decided to find out how many pilots really were average. He calculated the median range of ten dimensions he believed to be the most relevant for cockpit design and then compared each individual pilot, one by one, to this ‘average’ pilot. The general consensus amongst researchers was that the vast majority of pilots would be within these ranges on most dimensions. The results were stunning. Not ONE out of 4,063 pilots fit within the average range on all ten dimensions.
If you’ve designed a cockpit to fit the average pilot, you’ve actually designed it to fit no one at all!