A third of the population is incompetent

Talking to the electrician today about how hard it is to get good service, he said "I'm convinced a third of the public is incompetent". Well ... yes.

Actually I was talking to the back of his head and the infamous tradesman's bum-crack* as he crouched over a wall outlet rewiring it before it burned our house down. When he made the statement about "...a third ...is incompetent" I agreed and we had a good bitch about how hopeless clerical and trades and service people are.

But later as I pondered the point that "...a third ...is incompetent" it occured to me that I had bought into the same statistical fallacy that I lambasted McKinsey for in a blog post over on the IT Skeptic blog some time ago.

I said:

what is it about analysts' inability to understand basic statistics?
"only 34 percent say that they are more effective at introducing new technologies than their competitors are" is like saying "only 34% are tall". Well, duh! It's a bit sad when supposed business gurus can't grasp the concept of a bell curve.

Which makes it even sadder when I fall down the same hole.

Competence (or conversely, incompetence) is a relative term. Everyone makes mistakes, no-one is infallible (notwithstanding papal claims), so no-one is perfectly competent, although some seem to be perfectly incompetent. One is competent as measured against the norm or average of the population. So assuming an approximately normal (i.e. bell curve) distribution, about a third is more competent than average, about a third is around average, and about a third is indeed incompetent.

And about a third always will be, no matter how we educate, thrash or genetically engineer the population.

Bothol's Corollary to this conclusion: when they look for people to do the tedious, thankless, stressful jobs of facing the customer, and they pay little for it, anyone who can get a job somewhere else does so. Guess which third their recruits most likely come from?

A depressing thought: I will continue to suffer cock-ups by my bank, insurance companies, tradespeople, and of course government for ever because a third of the population is incompetent, and service jobs suck so badly only the incompetent third take them.

*Cultural note: I don't know about your country but in New Zealand (and Australia)most tradesmen wear shorts. Most tradesmen think they are still a size L. So most tradesmen tend to spill over the top of their shorts when bending over. It is a major source of visual pollution in my country, and a famous phenomenon much commented upon.