WISDOM – Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling was a doctor and public speaker. He fought two main battles during his life: children mortality and ignorance. If you never had the chance to watch Hans’ TED Talks, give it a look, they are inspiring. I’ll add them after the review. The main reason to read this article – and the book – is that I bet it will make you happier about the current state of the world!

In no more than 300 words

Factfulness was written by Hans Rosling as a digest of his lifelong quest for a fact-based understanding of our world. After countless experimentations and public speaking exercises, Rosling concluded that human living in richest parts of the world tend to imagine a distorted world, through the lence of poverty, violence and fear. Factfulness exposes how we rely on an outdated matrix to make our judgements. Western vs Developping world framework prevents us from realising that most people live today in middle-income countries, 80% of 1-year old children globally have been vaccinated or that Malaysia life expectancy today is comparable to Sweden in 1975. Rosling invites us to consider a 4 income buckets framework. Level 1 corresponds to $1 a day, and encompasses our traditional poverty image: people going barefoot to get water from a well. 1 billion people are today in this category. Level 4 stands for “western” lifestyle, with a daily income over $64, home to another 1 billion individuals. Remaining 5 billions are split between two categories: from $4 daily income for category 2 and $16 a day for level 3.

Rosling warns against use of stereotypes: religion has barely any impact on number of children. Income, and to a second order healthcare and education do. Consider that that number of children per woman is lower in Iran than in USA. As I finished the book, I realised such data-driven exercise opened my eyes to more opportunities. It also calls for lifelong learning: the world is evolving fast, yet the eduction is mostly provided when we are young, by teachers who rely on data from their own twenties. Luckily, data is now available to most of us, and at a very cheap cost. A small effort can grant us a useful framework upgrade.

Three takeaways

  • The world is in much better state that our intuition would let us imagine. A simple look at the facts helps to realise that.
  • The next 1Bn population willl be aged between 30 and 45 years old, while other buckets will remain stable from now to 2030
  • It is very difficult for the brain to get a sense of large numbers, hence using ratios and comparables provide a much better understand of general situations

Bridging the implementation gap

  • Dedicate more time to understand what the majority stands for (in terms of actual distribution) and focus less on averages or extremes that tend to cloud the understanding
  • When facing an urgent situation, instead of acting right away, take an additional look at the data (and get more if not relevant) and assess the second order consequences of action versus non action
  • Beware of statements starting with “in times like this” or “in the world we live in now”. They usually introduce false and overly pessimistic statements.

Do I recommend this book? That is indeed a must read!

View the book or the ebook Factfulness on Amazon

How does Factfulness rank on the #neverendingbooklist project?

See Hans’ TED Talk, Let my dataset change your mindset

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