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Will Rogers Phenomenon

Go to solution Solved by Shashikant Adlakha,

Will Rogers Phenomenon is when by moving one or more elements from one data set to the other, increases the average for both the data sets. The name is attributed to humorist Will Rogers who made a comment made about migrations during the 1930s American depression - "When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, they raised the average intelligence level in both states."


An application-oriented question on the topic along with responses can be seen below. The best answer was provided by Shashikant Adlakha on 31st December 2019.


Applause for all the respondents - Shashikant Adlakha, Sudheer Chauhan, Nilesh Gham, Saravanan S


Also review the answer provided by Mr Venugopal R, Benchmark Six Sigma's in-house expert.


Q 222. The "Will Rogers phenomenon" is obtained when moving an element from one set to another set increases the average of both the sets. What are the practical implications of this phenomenon in Business? How can it be used for business benefit?


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   Historically this phenomenon was  proposed in  In 1985 to describe the 'stage changes'  of cancer patients by changing the criteria of stage-specific prognosis, even though there was no change in  outcome of individual patients. Will Roger phenomenon finds much application in medical field. In oncology,  sensitive tools allowed detection of cancer metastases much earlier,  leading to categorization of more number of patients into more severe metastatic disease stage . Such a  radical change in staging of the patient 's stage resulted in an improved  prognosis  of patients and higher 5 year survival  in both the less and the more severe disease stages.


In  terms of business and commercial aspect also it may be used in various aspects to improve the process efficiency in terms of running average. The best examples are:

- In industry  to increase the productivity of two different shifts, morning and evening, the workers with moderate efficacy, lying in between the mean of the efficacy of two shifts may be shifted from one shift to another, thus both the batches have better yield.

- Reallocation of budget and resources from one to another potential project in a company, may result in better  Return of Investent(ROI) for both the projects, by reducing the investment of the project with stronger expected output/yield. Whereas the weaker project, gets more funding and resources and get benefited tremendously by yielding  much higher gain, though at the cost of mild to moderate increased investment.

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Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R

When we have two sets of data having different averages, if we move one data point from one set to another, an increase in the average could be seen for both the sets, subject to conditions. The conditions are - the data point is moved from the set that has higher average to the one with lower average. The data point happens to be lower than the average of its original set, but higher than the average of the set to which it is moved.


Will Rogers phenomenon could thus cause an improvement on the average values of both the groups by just doing a reclassification, all the values remaining same.


Let me illustrate this using a simplified practical example. The table below gives the outstanding dues of loans from customers. There are two groups based on age. For simplicity we are considering only 5 data points for each group.




From the above table, it is seen that the average for group1 is 4600 and for group2 is 1370.


Assume that one customer in group1, who has outstanding of 3200, turns 60 and thus gets moved to Group2. The table will get revised as below:




The group1 average has increased to 4950. The group2 average has also increased to 1675.


It appears as if there is a increase in the average outstanding for both the groups, whereas none of the individual values has changed. The effect was only due to a re-grouping. Such re-groups whether done intentionally or unintentionally, could alter the average value of a group. We need to be careful in interpreting such business results and confirm whether the changes are genuine or are a result of “Will Rogers” phenomenon.


We see articles about how the Will Rogers effect impacts certain practices in the healthcare world. For example, advancements in the methods to detect growth of cancer has resulted in classifying more cases as ‘stage-3’, whereas they were earlier classified as ‘stage-2’, based on the prevailing detection methods. Such a shift in classification has resulted in moving certain cases from stage-2 to stage-3. These cases are ‘high sick’ as per stage-2, but ‘low sick’ as per stage-3. By this reclassification, the average mortality rates showed improvement for both the stages, whereas there is no change in the overall situation. However. While mortality rates could have genuinely improved due to advancement in treatments, Will Roger’s effect from re-classification could make the benefits appear further boosted.

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Will Rogers Phenomenon

In 1930, Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California during the economic crises in America and raised the average intelligence level in both states. Alvan Feinstein gave it the name “Will Roger Phenomenon” in 1985.

Will Roger Phenomenon is related to stage migration. It is found when an element moves from one set to another set and increase the average value of both sets


The effect will happen when both below conditions are met

  1. Below average element should move from current set. as definition, it will improve the average of remaining elements. If set is (5,6,7,8,9) and average of this set is 7 now if we moved 5 from this set then new set will be (6,7,8,9) and new average would be 7.5 i.e. improved average of set.


  2. Entering element should be above the current average, it will improve the over all average of remaining elements. ex. if another set is (1,2,3,4) and average of this set is 2.5. 5 is above the current average of group and if 5 will enter in this group then new set will be (1,2,3,4,5,) and new average of this set is 3 i.e improved average of set.

It is commonly used in the Hospitals (Radiology and Diagnostic etc), Banking and Life insurance business.

It is more related to classification or categorization of patient and customer. In hospitals if we have to categories 1. List of healthy people and other 2. List of sick people and due to advancement of medical science of early diagnosis we should move the patient from list -1 to list 2 post early diagnosed. It will improve the average life span due to disease in both (lists) sets.

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The Will Roger's phenomenon, is a phenomenon which revolves around increasing "averages". It was made popular owing to the comedian Will Roger: 
When people of one geographical state left the state and moved to another geographical state, this had an effect of raising the average intelligence levels in either of these states. 

In the medical field(s), particularly in cancer research, such a phenomena is used in a way that any new clinical investigation includes more accurate cancer staging data than previous data; this results in a spurious, apparent increase in survival rates by stage.

At the outset, using this phenomenon can seem to be highly delusional. Going after a better Average/ Mean, may possibly serve as a quick fix to hide an inherent variation and to show better "numbers". Window dressing like so, may have serious causes, which may crop up in future with a much aggrieved effect, possibly making the initial problem a bigger monster to solve.


However, at times such a phenomenon may also be observed when there are process upgrades. wherein, data in foresight can show better averages, further leading to a possibly better population. 


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The Will Rogers phenomenon is obtained from the idea that if an element of a set is moved to another set, it increases the average values of both the sets.  It is an epidemiological paradox named after the Oklahoma comedian, Will Rogers, who apparently joked that the Oklahomans who moved to California, during the Great Depression of America, actually raise the average intelligence level in both the states of Oklahoma and California.


It takes both of the following two conditions to be fulfilled to have the Will Rogers phenomenon happening in any real time scenarios:


·       The element which is being moved should be below average for its current set.  Moving it will raise the average of the remaining elements of its own set.

·       The element which is being moved should be above the existing average of the set it is entering into.  Adding it to the new set will, raise the average.


Also, the element which is being moved does not have to be the very lowest of its set; it only has to have a value that lies between the arithmetic means of the two sets.


One example of Bill Rogers phenomenon would be the following – let us assume there are two automobile branches in a city with three salesmen in each of them, i.e., A, B, C in branch 1 and salesmen D, E, and F in branch 2.  On an average, salesman A sells one car per week, B sells two cars per week, C sells three cars per week, and so on up to F selling six cars per week.  Obviously the average sales of the branch 1 is 2 and that of the branch 2 is 5; branch B is far better in the average sales when compared with that of branch A.  If we need to improve averages of both the branches, we can use Will Rogers phenomenon and change the salesman D to branch 1, it changes the average of branch 1 from 2 to 2.5, and also increases the average of branch 2 to 5.5 with only two salesmen in it.


Though the actual value of sales has not changed, we can use this Will Rogers phenomenon to boost the morale of the company to start with and then we can get down to work to actually increase the networth of the company by taking up some real action items.


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Kudos to all respondents for providing the correct answer.


Best answer has been provided by Shashikant Adlakha for explaining the phenomenon and how it can be used for business benefits. Congratulations Shashikant!!


Nilesh's answer is also a must read to understand how this phenomenon can be used to artificially inflate the performance numbers.


Also review the answer provided by Mr Venugopal R, Benchmark Six Sigma's in-house expert.

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