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Behind the Curve

Posted by Bob on September 03, 2000

In Reply to: Behind the Curve posted by Bruce Kahl on September 03, 2000

: : Does anyone know the derivation of this phrase? What kind of curve does it refer to? The sense in which I hear it most often is -- late in acting or slow to pick up on something. Is this correct?

: Your phrase refers to the statistical bell shaped curve also called the normal probability distribution.
: This statistic states that if you were to go to a shopping mall and measure,at random,people's heights or their shoe size or IQ that you would find that about 60% would be, in the case of height, between 5'6" and 5'10" ( I am just guessing at the numbers )--the other 40% would be evenly split between being taller than 5-10 and shorter than 5-6. This 60-20-20 split can be graphed and the result on graph paper resembles a bell.
: So if some one is referred to as being "behind the curve" then that someone is considered to be lacking in certain skills or knowledge by being in the lower 20% range on the bell or curve.

I agree, but I would add that often you hear the phrase used more specifically in relation to one's ability to adapt to change. One is "ahead of the curve" or "behind" if one is quick to incorporate new technology or learning and put it into practice, or resistant to change. A bell curve of progress has two little pointy ends: Luddites on the left, technogeeks on the right.