Factfulness – The Importance of Critical Thinking

Factfulness by Hans Roling (of TED talks and Gapminder charts fame) is an exceptionally good book. It provides great insight into how to think more effectively and how to understand the reality of the world we live in (versus the large distortions so common in most people’s view of the world).

Today the people living in rich countries around the North Atlantic, who represent 11 percent of the world population, make up 60 percent of the Level 4* consumer market. Already by 2027, if incomes keep growing worldwide as they are doing now, then that figure will have shrunk to 50 percent. By 2040, 60 percent of Level 4 consumers will live outside the West.

book cover of Factfulness

One of the significant focuses of the book is the need for critical thinking.

constantly test you favorite ideas for weaknesses. Be humble about the extent of you expertise. Be curious about new information that doesn’t fit, and information from other fields. And rather than talking only to people who agree with you, or collecting examples that fit your ideas, see people who contradict you, disagree with you, and put forward ideas as a great resource for understanding the world.

I have come to see a willingness to value critical thinking, even when it means forcing the organization to address tough issues, as one the differences between organizations that succeed in applying management improvement methods and those that fail. In many organizations that fail, more weight given to making things easy for your bosses versus continual improvement in providing value to customers (which often requires challenging existing processes, beliefs and power structures in the organization).

Challenging the status quo is difficult and most organizations prefer to maintain a culture that takes an easier path. Management improvement often requires a willingness to encourage challenges to the status quo. The importance of challenging the status quo in your organization and in your own thinking is under appreciated.

An example of the systems thinking and economics views Hans shares in the book:

“It is unethical to spend all my time and resources trying to save those who come here [hospital in Mozambique in the early 1980s]. I can save more children if I improve the services outside the hospital. I am responsible for all the child deaths in this district: the deaths I do not see just as much as the deaths in front of my eyes.”

My friend disagreed, as do most doctors and perhaps most members of the public. “Your obligation is to do everything for the patients in your care.”

A focus on what is in front of you right now and a disregard for the overall system and long term consequences (that are often far more important) is common many organizations.

Ingegerd Rooth, who had been working as a missionary nurse in Congo and Tanzania before she became my mentor. She always told me, “In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used.”

Related: Poorly Stratified Data Leads to Mistakes in AnalysisThe Illusion of UnderstandingIgnoring Unpleasant Truths is Often EncouragedFactfulness – An Extremely Valuable Book (from the Curious Cat Economics BlogWhy Do People Fail to Adopt Better Management Methods?

* In 2017 (read more about this idea)
Level 1 has 0.75 billion people living on less than $2 per day.
Level 2 has 3.3 billion people living on incomes between $2 to $8 per day.
Level 3 has 2.5 billion people living on $8 to $32 per day.
Level 4 has 0.9 billion people living on more than $32 per day.

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