In his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling, along with co-authors Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling, made a very compelling case about the extent to which people tend to make assumptions about the world which are incorrect. (I highly recommend reading the book in its entirety, and also checking out the gapminder website.)
The book lays out ten instincts that shape our views about the world, even when there is plenty of data available to us which tells a very different story, if only we are willing to put these instincts on hold and listen, read, and watch carefully to what the facts are. What will follow is a series of posts about each of these instincts and its potential impact in a team-based work context.
As described in the book (and on the website), the ten instincts which tend to lead us astray are:
- The gap instinct. Whenever there is a gap between one thing and another, from a data perspective, it is easy to fall into the temptation to focus on the two separate things, and lose sight of the fact that there are often more data points right in the middle, between the two.
- The negativity instinct. We are bombarded with so much negative information, that it is easy to slip into a negative frame of mind. There are always plenty of positive things happening, and we need to be sure not to lose sight of that.
- The straight line instinct. Trends often do not proceed along a straight line trajectory. An example of flawed thinking in this area: when managers somehow expect “productivity” to continue to increase until the end of time.
- The fear instinct. Things that appear frightening tend to get our attention; and often the reason something might seem frightening is we have little information about it.
- The size instinct. Whenever a single number is used to try to make a point about how small or how big something is, there is reason for suspicion. Look for other data points so that valid comparisons can be made.
- The generalization instinct. Although arranging things into categories is a natural human tendency, along with making generalizations based on clustering things together, it is a slippery slope toward drawing conclusions based on things that are not warranted by the data.
- The destiny instinct. It is easy to draw a conclusion that things are not changing, just because the rate of change is slow. When slow changes happen over a long period of time, however, the improvement can still be dramatic.
- The single perspective instinct. No matter how certain drawing a particular conclusion might seem, looking at it from a different perspective often leads to a completely different answer.
- The blame instinct. A rush to judgement happens far too frequently. Not only is this unfortunate for the subject of blame, it also halts further learning and introspection into what really happened and why.
- The urgency instinct. When it seems like a decision has to be made right away, take a step back and search for clues as to why that seems to be the case. Few are the instances where action in fact has to be taken immediately.
- This post, where I take a closer look at the first of the gaps in the book (the gap instinct) — Let’s Be More Factful, Part I — The Gap Instinct
- The Gapminder website
- Factfulness: A practical guide to critical thinking