Be Polarizing

For those of you who’ve read and loved Learning to Love Criticism (and for those of you who haven’t, until just now), here’s a related idea: learning to love being hated, by at least some people some of the time: The Curse of Meh.

It is a simple mathematical reality that there are two ways of getting an average rating — either most people give you an average rating, or some people rate you really high and others rate you really low, yielding a cumulative middle ground. In mathematics, this concept is known as variance — the more spread out a set of numbers, the greater the variance.

What Rudder and his team found was that not all averages are created equal in terms of actual romantic opportunities — greater variance means greater opportunity. Based on the data on heterosexual females, women who were rated average overall but arrived there via polarizing rankings — lots of 1’s, lots of 5’s — got exponentially more messages (“the precursor to outcomes like in-depth conversations, the exchange of contact information, and eventually in-person meetings”) than women whom most men rated a 3.

Cool, eh? But what about those of you who aren’t interested in dating sites?

Indeed, the implications extend far beyond online dating and touch on the broader trap of public opinion. To play to public opinion or seek to please everyone is to aim at precisely that uncontested average, the undisputed and indisputable 3, obtaining which is a matter of being extra-ordinary rather than extraordinary. As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s — you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

The bitter irony of the human experience is that while most of us celebrate nonconformity, we tend to conform even in our nonconformity. In order to succeed in a mass-market business — perhaps the ultimate enterprise of catering to popular opinion — we’re encouraged to be “ambiverts,” smack in the middle of the introversion-extraversion spectrum.

I’m just going to repeat my favourite bit, there:

As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s–you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

Wow. I love that. And if you take a moment to think about any business, organization, cause, or person who has sincered and insanely devoted fans, it’s true, isn’t it, that they all have troves of haters as well?

I like data, and most of the time I prefer to come to my conclusions after careful consideration of all the evidence, giving it plenty of time to percolate. This time, hats to the wind: after one read of a pop-psychology internet piece whose references I have not reviewed, I’ll aim to be polarizing. Because, what fun!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Be Polarizing”

  1. Oh wow. I love that too. I’d rather 5s and 1s any day of the week over a three. Succeed wildly or fail spectacularly. The worry for me comes with what being hated entails. I’ve been following the vitriol directed towards female gamers and, in those cases, the 1 (or the 5) makes them a target of the crazies. I think for a lot of people, 3 feels safer than 1s and 5s. I really like this conversation you are starting. Thought-provoking stuff.

    1. You’re right, 3 is safer, which is I’m sure why it’s a more common target. It’s just that it doesn’t get you anywhere. If you’re not trying to go anywhere, then great; if you are, it won’t work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s