New research suggests, however, that rather than describe how humans perform, the bell curve may actually be constraining how people perform. Minus such constraints, a new paper argues, lots of people are actually outliers.
Human performance, by this account, does not often fit the bell curve or what scientists call a normal distribution. Rather, it is more likely to fit what scientists call a power distribution.
The study examined the performance of 633,263 people involved in four broad areas of human performance: academics writing papers, athletes at the professional and collegiate levels, politicians and entertainers.
“We looked at researchers, we looked at entertainers, we looked at politicians, and we looked at collegiate as well as professional athletes,” Aguinis said in an interview. “In each of these kinds of industries, we found that a small minority of superstar performers contribute a disproportionate amount of the output.”
Aguinis said the bell curve may describe human performance in the presence of some external constraint — such as an assembly line that moved at a certain speed.
… successful companies and nations would do well to identify superstars, because such performers were disproportionately likely to register new discoveries and achievements.