As I mentioned in the post which preceded this one, 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.
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.
This post will describe various ways in which the first of those ten instincts — The Gap Instinct — can be manifested.
The Gap Instinct
As a reminder, here is how the gap instinct is succinctly described in the book:
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.
How the gap instinct can lead us astray
In a work context, “gap analysis” is a popular term for activities that focus on a perceived gap between one set of things and another set of things. There are certainly legitimate business reasons to perform gap analysis. What happens all too often, however, is that we sometimes draw conclusions from gap analysis that are not supported by the data.
As they emphasize in the book, we should be particularly careful when comparing averages. For instance, if we were to check the spreads, we might find that they overlap, and thus that there is no gap at all (or certainly not as great a gap as we might think if we only compare averages).
It is particularly easy to fall into a trap where we have a bias because we want to make a particular point or argue for a certain point of view. Consider a case where we do market analysis, and based on that analysis, decide that there is a market for a particular product, because of a perceived gap between Product X, Product Y, and Product Z. Some important questions to ask include:
- Is the gap in product coverage as big as we think it is?
- Is an existing product addressing part of the perceived gap already, without us noticing?
- Is the demand for fulling the perceived gap as great as we think it is?
Note: For additional information about the gap instinct, along with the other nine types of thinking that can cause us to be wrong when it comes to many of our beliefs and assumptions, see the Gapminder website.