The Abnormality of Normality

O’Boyle and Aguinis want you to know a little something about normality. Thus they produced this study:

The Best and The Rest: Revisiting the Norm of Normality of Individual Performance,” Ernest O’Boyle Jr., Herman Aguinis [pictured here], Personnel Psychology, vol. 65, no. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 79–119. The authors, at Longwood University and Indiana University, explain:

“We revisit a long-held assumption in human resource management, organizational behavior, and industrial and organizational psychology that individual performance follows a Gaussian (normal) distribution. We conducted 5 studies involving 198 samples including 633,263 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and amateur and professional athletes. Results are remarkably consistent across industries, types of jobs, types of performance measures, and time frames and indicate that individual performance is not normally distributed—instead, it follows a Paretian (power law) distribution. Assuming normality of individual performance can lead to misspecified theories and misleading practices. Thus, our results have implications for all theories and applications that directly or indirectly address the performance of individual workers including performance measurement and management, utility analysis in preemployment testing and training and development, personnel selection, leadership, and the prediction of performance, among others.”