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The Law of Average, or How to Stop Settling for Systems Designed for the Masses

The law of averages states that outcomes and events revert to the mean. Over time, if you roll a pair of dice that are properly made, the result will be random. Even if a low number has come up ten or more times in a row, to believe that the next roll of the dice “must” produce a different outcome than the last is a gambler’s fallacy.

You may have learned this at some point in math class, and it’s one of the more useful things to remember. But that’s the law of averages with the emphasis on the plural—I’d like to propose a law of average.

The law of average states that the operating system of life is designed to work for as many people as possible. Possessing this knowledge allows for infinite modifications.

Note the two parts:

1. The operating system of life is designed to serve as many people as possible. Its goal is to meet average needs. This means that it’s dumbed down and burdened with constraints.

2. You have the ability to customize the operating system in all sorts of ways. Once you understand this, you don’t have to be average!

PART I: Average Is Average

Imagine trying to design something for millions of people. Your highest value for this system is ease-of-use. It has to be!

If you’re making uniforms for the army, you know that most people will fit into a certain number of sizes. Great, you think. We’ll design eight sizes, and order 25,000 of each.

Now that you’ve ordered 200,000 uniforms in eight different sizes, your job is done. It doesn’t matter that you’ve failed thousands of eager recruits in your army who don’t fit these sizes. Your job was to serve most people. You can’t think about edge cases; you have to focus on the masses.

Uniforms for the army is just an example. The principle applies to literally anything else that will be used by large numbers of people.

Call it the operating system of average: It doesn’t need to be the best, it just needs to be good enough for the most number of people.

A few examples:

  • Average is mass entertainment. Think music in the Spotify Top 50, People magazine, or big-budget movies.
  • Television before streaming services was average. (Did you know that broadcast TV still exists? It does, and it’s … average.)
  • Average is an IKEA assembly manual that conveys instructions using images instead of words. It’s easier than printing in a dozen languages—and when it works, it’s ideal. But sometimes it doesn’t work, so that’s why there’s a deliberate tradeoff: to reach the most amount of people with the most commonly-understood solution.

Those examples are easy enough to understand. It’s easy to opt out of them as well: if you don’t want to see the same movies as everyone else, you can use any number of streaming services to find quirky documentaries, foreign movies, or whatever else you’d prefer.

But now let’s look beyond consumer goods like movies and furniture—because the operating system of life runs much deeper.

  • Average is the classical educational system, broadly speaking. From K-12 to graduate school and beyond, it exists to serve the most people as best as it can. (It’s inherently average! You can’t just set out to improve it without redefining it.)
  • Average is 9-5 work schedules, boilerplate corporate roles, and non-profit organizations that spend most of their time on fundraising 
  • Average is “networking.” Average is “public relations.” Average is sending the same pitch to dozens or hundreds of people without regard for fit or personalization.
  • Average is echo chamber social media that encourages polarization and discourages rational debate. (Rational debate is hard!)

If an operating system is designed for average people, then those who are above-average are not well served by it.

To be clear, average is not a pejorative. It doesn’t mean poor or disadvantaged. It is a classless category.

In the same way that you can decide you no longer want to reward Hollywood studios for making dumb movies, you can decide to stop being average.

This brings us to the second part of The Law of Average: once you understand that the world is designed around average, you are able to seek out infinite modifications for yourself. You no longer need to accept the stock version of life’s operating systems.

PART II: Infinite Modifications

AKA “Everything is hackable”

Once you understand that life’s operating system wasn’t purpose-built for your needs, you have the ability to customize it in all sorts of ways. You don’t have to accept average! You don’t have to be average, either.

Off-the-shelf software works for many purposes. It’s easy, simple, and accessible. Customized software is more expensive. It tends to have more quirks and a higher learning curve. Fewer people use it, so it also has a higher cost—not just in terms of money but also the time and attention required to master it. Yet once you do, you see how powerful it is.

Because it requires time and attention, you don’t need to modify all of life’s operating systems. In fact, that would be impossible—you simply don’t have enough time. Stock software is perfectly fine for lots of usages, just like IKEA furniture is perfectly fine for some rooms.

Instead, you need to choose what systems you’d like to modify.

As you go through life, consider if the stock system (the one that’s designed for average) is acceptable or not. If it is, there’s no need to do anything.

But for everything else—and once you start thinking like this, there will be a lot of options—what shall you modify? Everything is hackable!

You might start simply by asking yourself a series of questions.

  • When you encounter something you don’t want to do, ask, “What will happen if I don’t do this?”
  • When you think about doing something that feels risky, ask “What are the stakes here? What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Much of the time you’ll find that the stakes are very low. No one is going to die if you don’t return their voice mail.
  • Speaking of dying, if you get stuck, you can always think about that. “If I knew I had one year (or one month, one week, etc.) left to live, how would I spend it?” If the answer is anything different than what you’re doing now, maybe it’s time to make some modifications.

With enough effort, you can design an operating system that works for you. Like most software, it probably won’t be perfect. It will have bugs and issues that need to be tweaked over time. But if you get 80% of it right, you will be far above average.


The law of average states that the operating system of life is designed to work for as many people as possible. It seeks to serve most of the people, most of the time. 

Average systems can also serve you some of the time, because you don’t have enough time and energy to customize everything. But for everything else—why should you settle?

If you’re reading this post, chances are you are not average. You’re above average and interested in improving your life. You don’t want to accept what you’re given, at least not without questioning whether something else might be better.

Therefore: what modifications will you select? What will you choose first, and what will you think of next?