I miss Hans Rosling
A few weeks ago, we lost Hans Rosling.
Hans is my hero. He opened my eyes. More than a decade ago he inspired me to set out on a path that eventually became my craft. Hans truly motivated me to actually do something with my ongoing obsession with making complicated things easier to understand.
One of my ambitions in life was to meet him, this has now sadly turned into the regret of not having done so.
And if you don’t know Hans, I take it as a privilege to introduce you to his legacy and his work.
So who was this man?
A Swedish academic from Uppsala, a university town north of Stockholm, Hans was a professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. Just over a decade ago, he founded Gapminder which provided millions of people around the world with dynamic data sets.
It also includes Dollar Street — a virtual global diverse neighbourhood where anyone, anywhere can see how real people from around the world really live.
Hans liked to call himself an “edutainer”. He was an unforgettable communicator, impossible to ignore and deeply inspiring both as a scientist and as a human being.
His messages were profoundly serious but he delivered them with the disarming humour of a stand up comedian — wielding that contagious sophisticated sense of humour Swedes can master.
Hans’ magic was all about rendering complex datasets to become not only easy to understand, but also to make them a whole lot of fun to consume. He always came up with the most innovative ways to visualise data, ranging from captivating animations to using toys, boxes and household appliances to make complex messages as simple as ABC. He was living proof that simplicity is indeed the new sophistication.
He was on a mission to help us see the developing world beyond the smoke screen of our negativity-biased media. He provided us with messages driven by hard data that can make you believe that the world is on track to being a place of abundance. Hans’ outlook on our global society wasn’t only motivating, but it was based on undeniable evidence. He gave us a new eye through which to see our world. He liked to go by the slogan “let my dataset change your mindset.”
Of all the educational ‘stunts’ he pulled off, my personal favourite is his big idea about ‘The Wash Line’. This is where he makes the point that, out of all technologies, one of the most unrecognised transformative powers in our exponential technological evolution was the washing machine. If you watch anything about him, I certainly do hope it is this video :
But obviously Hans’ work didn’t go unnoticed. Time magazine included him in its 2012 list of the world’s 100 most influential people, saying his “stunning renderings of the numbers … have moved millions of people worldwide to see themselves and our planet in new ways”. He was also a regular speaker on various TED talks platforms.
One of his last major achievements was his on-the-ground role in the battle against Ebola in West Africa, proving that he also ‘walked his talk’.
I miss you Hans. Thank you for your amazing work and for inspiring me to invest in the craft that I eagerly jump out of bed to practice every day.
The good news is that your work has only begun and is now in the loving hands of your son, Ola Rosling.
Ola, I certainly do hope to have the opportunity to meet you!
Thanks for taking the time to read this!