Effective Investing and the Bell Curve of Response


The response people give to any initiative will be a bell curve, no matter how much you invest, and whatever be your line of business or place in time and space.

the bell curve
Where are our clients?

One extreme will host a few, those for which your intervention was no less than a godsent. If you can step back long enough from your feelings of success and their loving eyes, you will notice that they actually could have done it by themselves, your action just tipped the balance on something whose time had come. They are passionate, surprisingly skilled and able, eager to learn.

On the other extreme are those, luckily also just very few, who see whatever you did or are trying to do as major class-A blasphemy. Yes, now they actually are after your guts, and depending where you live you may need a bigger dog and avoid dark places for a while. At the very least, even if you don't know them by name, do expect some people will talk evil about your project to decision-makers or the press, while sort of waiting to celebrate your downfall.

In the "for" side slope you have early adopters, hopefully quite a few, people open to new ideas, maybe living a culture of learning. In the "against" side will be the idle, the lazy, the tired. As long as you don't bother them, they will not attack you, but neither will they support your project, and they certainly, no way, will they actually become active users of whatever you have to propose, though they would never tell you so in your face - that would be impolite. In between, you will find those who may or maybe not, depending more than anything on how you package the idea, and, if at all, likely will come along only for a short time.

What about those OLPC machines

Same same. Hand out computers in a pre-presidential election event, a few are wont to fall into the hands of people who can and will use them for good. Or, throw money, credibility, the best and brightest at the problem, make it a well designed, planned and executed project (like Ceibal, say), still many "will not get it", and a few will not sleep until they get rid of you. And it will seem that the numbers of those who actually get moving to the idea do not seem to keep growing. No matter how much you invest, no matter how fair your cause, it doesn't seem to ever go by itself, those geometrical rates of reaching the unreached you gave the World Bank do not work even though they accepted them. Maybe you end up, like me, seeing your hair go grey while you wait for truth and justice to prevail.

Listen, kid. Widespread success won't happen. Well, let me put it this way, some success might happen, maybe enough to keep showing your face at those international events and at OLPC News.

Admit it, not everybody is as bright as you are and agrees yours is the perfect solution for that education problem. Moreover, while you will get a lot of nods, that will be pretty much all you will get from many, especially from teachers. Teachers, the good, the horrid, the lame and the confused, agree in one thing: they are overworked. Next, they are teachers, for crying out loud, they are the ones who have the answers! If what you propose is a different "answer", it's curtains, better go home and raise some organic tomatoes.

Otherwise, at best you will get enough good people to waste their chances of a career by risking their future by supporting you. The majority, and most importantly, the Teachers Union, will basically never move with the new idea. So, buddy, first thing, you want to shape your idea to something that means making the teacher work easier. That might gain enough support that some might even brave the union, or, best option ever, the union might see you as their friend.

Now, if besides helping the teacher it actually improves education for the kids, then we have a winner.

The Problem

Unless you're lucky, or extremely good at con-vincing people, you will be spending zillions of dollars, your youth and that of those around you, the goodwill and the hopes of many, and still someone is bound to righteously yell "it's a waste of money", while pointing at dusty XOs piled in warehouses, broken screen galore, and that the favorite and for too many kids apparently only uses of the ventanitas de cielo are Doom and mp3s. While you desperately try to show some youtube and some truly exceptional cases that you pretend happen all over the place, maybe even you wonder if you could have done things differently.

Action Steps to a Solution

Focus on what people want. It might not be what your friends in that Cambridge coffee house think these people need, but sooner or later you need those majorities among your clientèle to at least nod their approval. Also, notice what it is that people who will fund you want.

Sow wide. Actually, go and read Luke 8:4-15, here's a link

Then, accept the idea that, while giving everyone an opportunity, to assume you will get satisfactory results from all will not do. I know, it's not easy, it took me at least a couple weeks of being very frustrated

See Yama and friends telling you what to do:


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1 Comment


The Bell curve is just a monument to ignorance. Whenever you know what you are talking about, you do not need a Bell curve.

The fact that X (IQ, length, health etc.) has a normal distribution tells us there are too many factors involved to actually know what is happening.

Some of these factors are genetics, some personal history, some social, some economic, some just (bad) luck.

Most, even the genetic ones, can be improved upon by intervention.

But those who use the "Bell curve" do not want to improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. For them, it is just a sorry excuse to ignore the plight of the poor.

This was nicely illustrated by James Flynn. See his Princeton University lectures: