Averages can be a good way to look at things, but they can also be used to intentionally distort data. Two examples come to mind.
First, you have my example from yesterday about the truck full of SD cards driving from Georgia to Michigan. You’re essentially transferring data at an insane 1.7 Petabytes/sec, but that average number isn’t of much real use when it takes 12 hours per trip.
Second is from a post a few weeks ago about the average salary of a Harvard drop-out. Factor in Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and the average is quite high, but misleading.
Head in the fridge, feet on the burner
It’s like the quote from Andrew Robinson, CEO of adverting agency BBDO:
When your head is in a refrigerator and your feet on a burner, the average temperature is okay. I am always cautious about averages.
Averages can be a useful metric, but if you see someone using the “average number” to make a point in their favor, dig a little deeper and see if it’s actually helpful or a skewed number to help them prove a false point.