Ahead of the curve?

2012-06-15 15:50



Ahead of the curve?

Reader question:

Please explain “ahead of the curve” in this sentence: He is progressing and he is way ahead of the curve for his age group.

My comments:

Ahead or above the curve means better than average.

Curve? What curve? You wonder.

A curve is a bending line, in the shape of a few arc linked together, i.e. with contours. In other words, not a straight line.

The curved line is seen in any statistical graph people draw in order to demonstrate, say, the rate of economic growths year on year. On the vertical axis of the graph is marked the growth rate while on the horizontal axis the years are marked. In between one sees a curved line showing the ups and downs of the economy. There won’t be a curved line, of course, if economic growth has been exactly even year on year – in that case, the line will be straight. However, as is always the case, bigger growths are always achieved in some years than others – fat years and lean years, you know, bigger crops, people buying more or government simply prints more money.

The long an short of it is, the curve in the graph demonstrates how fast or slow the economy has been going in different years. In some places the curve appears to be sharp, or steep, and that means during those years the economy grows rapidly. On the other hand, if the curve appears flat it means that growth is slow. The economy is stagnant, as it is now in much of the developed world.

In so far as youngsters are concerned, people sometimes talk of their learning curve. You know, boys and girls are generally supposed to master certain skills by a certain age. If one of them has mastered some of those skills faster than others, they’re said to be ahead of their learning curve, i.e. they have arrived ahead of schedule, so to speak. In other words, they’re clever and smart. On the other end of the spectrum, if certain students fail to master those skills in a timely fashion, they’re described as behind the curve. Again, if likened to the completion of a project, they’re behind schedule. Or, in the words of the family doctor in David Copperfield, they are “progressing slowly”.

In the top example, therefore, “he” is considered smart because he’s “way ahead of the curve” for his age group. Put in another way, he’s much better than other boys and girls of his age because he can accomplish tasks others cannot.

Society, the society most of us generally live at any rate, usually considers fast as better than slow. That’s just the peculiar human way of looking at things. In nature, there’s nothing wrong with being slow. Snails are slow, for example, and they never appear to fail to get things done. Dolphins are sleek and fast, and that’s fine too, of course.

Humans, for all the trouble they have, tend to favor the yang at the expense of the yin. They think fast is better and, for one thing, some parents cannot wait for their children to grow up. For another, they think bigger is better, which probably explains why a lot of people always seem to wind up with bigger problems than before.

People set bigger goals, you see, and want more money and things like that, and they want it faster and faster. Some, as a result, end up running first to the grave while still relatively young.

Anyways, if life is a race, perhaps humans can learn a little from snails. Slow does it, as they say. Do it easy.

OK, it should be “easy does it, as they say”. But you know what I mean.

Alright, here are media examples of “ahead of the curve” and, thrown in for the bargain, “behind the curve”:

1. Google is the cream of the internet search and advertising crop and got to its top spot on the backs of a large group of dedicated and talented employees. Some of the very same employees that helped Google get where it is today are now leaving the company in increasing numbers.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that Google is concerned that the loss of top staffers could hurt its long-term viability and ability to compete in the market. To help find the solution to the problem, Google is applying a new algorithm to mine employee data.

Google claims that its new algorithm can identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to resign. Exactly what the formula looks at is unknown, Google officials declined to comment on what the formula looks at reports the WSJ.

The inputs that the algorithm works form that are known are employee surveys and peer reviews. According to Google, the algorithm has already identified some employees that are most likely to quit and employees that feel underused. Feeling underused is reportedly a top reason employees leave.

Edward Lawler from the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California said, “They [Google] are clearly ahead of the curve, but a lot of companies are waking up to the fact that there is a lot of modeling that can provide you with critical data on human capital.”

Google’s Laszlo Bock said, “[the algorithm can] get inside people’s heads even before they know they might leave.”

- Google Algorithm Can Tell if You're About to Quit, HRPeople.monster.com, May 22, 2009.

2. Microsoft has decided to discontinue its home energy management software service called Hohm.

The announcement comes just days after Google made a similar announced on retiring its home energy management application, PowerMeter.

Both companies say market adoption of the software was too slow to justify continued development. The applications were designed to gather information from a home’s smart meter (or appliances with energy monitoring capabilities) and display it on the homeowner’s computer.

They are clearly ahead of the curve in introducing the software, as the majority of US homeowners don’t have smart meters and have never heard of Holm or Powermeter. Those couple million smart meters that have been installed generally come with pre-packaged software.

- Microsoft Follows Google: Ends Home Energy Management Service, SustainableBusiness.com, July 5, 2011.

3. President Obama wants the United States to have the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. But is a college degree still worth what it once was? Less than 60 percent of students at four-year institutions graduate, and many who do are in fields that don’t require a degree--two statistics that indicate a potential oversubscription in college.

But the president, parents, and employers place tremendous importance on obtaining at least a bachelor's degree. So students take on thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt to get their foot in the door for a job interview.

There is little pressure on students to choose a course of study that will reap returns on their (or taxpayers’) investment. The Obama administration recently announced that students can no longer be required to pay more than 10 percent of their discretionary income on loan repayments, and student loans will be forgiven completely after 20 years. With the knowledge that taxpayers will be the ones on the hook for repaying delinquent loans, students can pursue that overpriced degree in women’s studies without worrying about its actual value.

So the question goes beyond whether a college degree is still worth it. The real question is whether the federal government should be continuing to increase subsidies for students to attend college on the backs of American taxpayers.

Higher subsidies are problematic in many ways. Third-party payments inflate costs by making students less sensitive to increases in college tuition. Ever-increasing subsidies also remove any incentive for colleges to be remotely concerned with saving money. Uncle Sam stepping in as Rich Uncle also creates a vicious lending cycle: Washington increases subsidies, giving students a false sense of purchasing power. This enables universities to raise tuition, sending students scrambling for more loans--all of which does nothing to address the college-cost issue.

Worse, increasing federal subsidies shifts the burden of paying for college from the student--the person directly benefiting from having attended college--to the nearly three quarters of Americans who didn’t graduate from college. And the price tag for the Obama administration’s most recent overreach is steep: $575 million per year, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Government is again behind the curve. While more and more universities (such as MIT) are moving to put college courses online, the president wants to subsidize the old model, which has precluded the most underserved students from having access to college while adding to the astronomical cost of college for students everywhere.

- Government Is Behind the Curve, USNews.com, November 17, 2011.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Technically speaking?

Do you second-guess?

Manufacturing hits brick wall

Get it out of your system

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)

上一篇 : Technically speaking?
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