Factfulness book cover

Factfulness: 10 Reasons We’re Wrong About The World, Book Summary

The book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, (Buy it on Amazon) is an astounding book written by late Hans Rosling and son; Ola Rosling.

The book has received praise from powerful and influential people such as Bill Gates, who commented on the book and stated, “one of the most important books I’ve ever read – an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” He even offered US college graduates a free download of the e-book version on his blog.

So what can the reader expect to learn from the book?

Simply stated, how to look at the world from a factful and data-oriented manner.

As Rosling progressed through his career, he was fascinated by the systematic ignorance that he found in the world.

Thus, he went on a quest to understand the problem of why people thought the way they did and sought to solve the problem in a comprehensive manner.

Bill Gates recommends Factfulness for his annual summer reading list

Bill Gates recommends Factfulness for his annual summer reading list

The aim of the author is to dispel ignorance provide the reader with a measured way of looking at the world.

The First Factfulness Lesson: The Gap Instinct

The Gap Instinct is an instinct of many individuals to think of the world in two views.

These views can spill over into many domains, rich versus poor, low income and high income, developing vs developed, them and us.

Splitting the world into two parts makes it simple but it usually also makes it much less true.

This division and simplification causes a distortion, it causes a mental gap.

The truth of the matter is that many things in the world fall into a middle ground, not necessarily black or white, but grey.

This lesson is demonstrated in various settings but one of the most profound examples may be found in worldviews on poverty.

A majority of people are under the impression that at least fifty percent of the global population lives in low-income countries.

Yet, the truth is that only nine percent of the global population resides in low-income countries.

A majority of the world lives in middle-income countries.

The realization is that there are layers to the world, there’s more to it than good vs bad, heroes versus villains and rich versus the poor.

The Second Lesson: The Negativity Instinct

Many individuals have a tendency to focus more on the negative than on the positive, this is another instinct that greatly distorts the reality.

A common refrain heard in many a conversation is, “the world is getting worse”, a statement that implies, on the face it, taking all things into account, the world is regressing and declining.

Yet, that statement and overall worldview can be quite misleading.

Granted, negative trends are taking place, pollution, droughts terrorism, strife, and warfare are prominent buzzwords.

But flip the coin and one can understand that there are positive trends taking place as well.

Humanity has progressed.

More people are living a better life today than they were two hundred or even fifty years ago.

In the year 1800, at least 85 percent of the global population lived in extreme poverty.

Fast forward to today and those living in extreme poverty has halved over the course of twenty years! The average life expectancy in the world has increased from around 30 years to 70 years!

In addition to these significant improvements, the world is also seeing a startling decrease in other negative trends as well.

There are overall decreases in, hunger, legalized slavery, child labor, expensive solar panels, oil spills, HIV infections, children dying, deaths in battle, deaths by plane crash, deaths by smallpox and much more!

It is important to catch this mindset and steer away. The cure for this misconception is to minimize media intake and nostalgia, increase rationality and always stay factful.

The Third Lesson: The Straight Line Instinct

There is a model which many people use to see the world.

This mental model tells people that lines are straight, that they don’t double or rapidly increase, they are simply straight.

Take for example the fears of the continuous increase in the global population.

If one were to look to the past and predict the future, they would be scared.

They would see that the population has increased over time, from century to century, they would then wonder what would happen.

They might despair and think, how can a small and fragile earth handle this continuous rise in residents?

It turns out that their fears are in vain.

As more humans leave poverty and receive education, more decide to have fewer children.

In addition to this fact, due to the spread of contraceptives and other trends, births per woman have decreased.

Thus, when taking these factors into account, one would see that what would initially appear as a continuously increasing and straight line would not continue in that same direction forever.

This simple but important lesson can be applied to many aspects of living, what may typically seem as a straight line may not be straight, it may actually be a curve.

The Fourth Lesson: The Fear Instinct

The fact of the matter is that fear creates a different reality.

When individuals run on a fear mindset they don’t think straight, they take the wrong actions and then find themselves in an actual world of hurt.

Think about it, the emotion or the feeling of fear pushes individuals into a different state of mind and makes them think and act differently.

Leading them to make poor decisions that lead to a worse reality.

The feeling of fear causes a different reality!

This distortion can simply be solved by understanding the fears and then getting back to a state of rationality, leading the individual to think clearly and critically.

Remember, even though this is simple to overcome, due to the way that minds are wired, this can be something that is initially complex and difficult to overcome.

This will take time and practice to implement.

Fifth Lesson: The Size Instinct

The size issue is the instinct where individuals tend to focus heavily on one specific problem as opposed to allocating resources to what can help the many.

This distortion is also one that tends to be emotionally based.

This size issue is demonstrated in many domains but it can be seen directly in healthcare.

Take, for example, a doctor who is providing care in a poor remote area of the world.

This area may not have a lot of physicians, so this means that a lot of items are on the agenda.

The doctor has to play various roles to be able to make the most impact.

Yet, some doctors might think that their time will be best spent if they gave each and every single patient their full undivided attention.

This would likely be the wrong approach.

Each patient is certainly important but the doctor has to make sure to allocate time for all tasks.

To make a maximum impact and improve healthcare in the region for all individuals, the doctor would have to focus on tasks such as education, training, and other aspects that reaches and helps more individuals.

It can be easy to think that the doctor is being effective by only spending time with his limited range of patients, but this would a misallocation of resources.

The doctor only has a specific amount of time, and a limited amount of resources, bettering lives in the whole region means looking at the bigger picture and acting accordingly.

Sixth Lesson: The Generalization Instinct

Generalization and categorization is a common tendency, yet it skews reality.

Generalization can create grave errors, it can obscure game-changing details and lead to different conclusions.

One can fight this tendency by understanding that there are different details to the world and that things might not be as straightforward as they seem.

Remember to question your assumptions and never to take the exception as the rule.

Seventh Lesson: The Destiny Instinct

The Destiny Instinct is the notion that individuals, groups of people, and nations are driven by innate characteristics.

People that subscribe to this theory think that individuals and groups of individuals follow certain predefined inherent laws and can never change.

This idea is patently false, societies are dynamic, they change and progress with the times.

This is why revolutions happen, civil wars are fought and dictators are toppled.

Remember, change does occur, it may not happen immediately but it will eventually come about. Always keep an open mind and keep up to date with new data.

Eighth Lesson: The Single Perspective Instinct

The fact is that simple ideas are appealing.

The problem is that simplicity can hide complexity and obscure reality.

A simple idea can be so compelling that it seems like it could explain a great many things.

Yet, this type of thinking can lead one down a slippery slope.

To avoid being lured by the single perspective instinct one must take into account to never look at the world in a singular manner as this can greatly diminish the truth of reality.

Always prove your ideas, admit that you don’t know everything and remember that if you like to use hammers, not everything is a nail.

Ninth Lesson: The Blame Instinct

This is the tendency to blame scapegoats. This tendency comes from the willingness of the brain to make the world seem like a simpler place.

Yet, this blame instinct can lead to some unsavory destinations.

It is easy to fall into this trap.

There was an effect, there must be a direct cause, right?

Many assume that someone or something can directly be held responsible for this happening.

Still, this can be quite wrong.

Thinking that one person, a group of people, or one thing has such power over events can be an exaggeration.

Heading down this path is dangerous.

It can mean that one is focusing his / her energies on blaming…
…instead of taking to time to understand the world,
and how many related and unrelated components come together to produce different outcomes.

Instead of blaming:
take a step back,
understand what the facts are,
look at the system and what it is comprised of,
and then progress to finding appropriate solutions.

Learn to look at systems instead of only focusing on one small aspect.

Tenth Lesson: The Urgency Instinct

When individuals couple fears, uncertainty and the pressure of time, they tend to make rash and unwise decisions.

Think about going to the grocery store.
If an individual has not eaten anything and is hungry at the grocery store…
…they are likely to feel the urgency of purchasing more food.

They might not know that they don’t need all this food, yet they spend extra because of the hunger.

The impulsive purchases are caused by the temporary feeling of hunger.

Think about another situation. Purchasing a car is an interesting scenario.

Many consumers feel that car salesmen are too pushy and use many ‘urgency tactics’ to make the consumer buy.

They might say that a sale lasts for 48 hours…
…then when a consumer shows interest, salespeople close the deal by saying that the offer is good for an hour or less!

The time is ticking, the consumer has to make the decision or miss out on a great deal!

This fear of missing out on a great deal can make the consumer act quickly and make rash decisions.

Many consumers might fall for this sense of urgency and then regret the decision later.

This tactic is used in many areas of sales to push the consumer into action.

It is easy to be fooled by the sense of urgency instinct.

It is better to engage in systematic analysis, think through decisions and take incremental actions.

Focus on the most recent data, make sure to understand the context and be more effective.

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In Conclusion:

The Factfulness book tries to help you to understand that views of reality can easily be skewed due to primal instincts.

Altered worldviews can lead to bad decisions and this leads to worse realities.

Being able to recognize instincts that are being triggered by a situation is just the first step.

The next step is being able to understand that be the best way to move forward is to
Take a breath,
Look calmly at the data and the different probabilities at play,
then Act wisely and with ration.

All too often it can be easy to simply be swept up at the moment and act without thinking.

Living a factfull life allows one to take life as it is and move in line with the facts.

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