The title is a line from this week’s book, Factfulness. It’s simple. Three words. And yet, it really improved my view of data.
Hans Rosling wrote this book for all of us who get mired in the spiral of suggestion. That’s literally everyone. We are whipsawed on a daily basis by the one-two punch of our primitive instincts and the steady barrage of media. If it bleeds, it leads—as in, leads us to think narrowly about the world.
What does that mean? Our hunter-gatherer minds suffer the inability to see the full picture of any situation. We instinctively rely on the stories people tell us; not some excel spreadsheet. So without data, we only have perception and the cultivated stories of others. Doom and gloom is the pervading attitude, a myth we all perpetuate as we sit around drinking from the glass-half-empty. There is so much more to the story but no one is there to tell us.
Until now. Rosling’s book is one of the more beautiful works I’ve read in a long time. I’m sure I’ll endorse it more throughout the week.
I write in the theme of “striving strategically”. The idea is that we can’t simply be persistent with our hard work (striving) and we can’t simply be clever in our approach (strategy). Learning how to do both is where the real impact is waiting. For developing that approach, I select books through the Greek trio of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos. Most books involve management, strategy, and business. So how does Factfulness fit in?
To return to the Greeks, I find data to be the stuff of logos. It’s most fun, to me, when used for learning new things. But for others, I use data to persuade. Facts and figures that enhance an argument. Our book and its three artful words, Data as therapy, move the entire practice into the realm of pathos. This is the use of data because it’s good for you.
So in Factfulness, the therapy manifests in good news. Everybody! Hey! The world is far better than you think it is! It is true and it is exciting. So yes, that’s therapy. One version.
But there are other ways that data is therapy. Consider the “good medicine” effect data provides. No one wants to take their medicine but it’s good for them. Same with data. Most people don’t want it. It’s the inconvenient truth. It’s the market survey that shows our brand is not as popular as we thought it was. It’s the financial forecast that says we’re going to be below target. Or my favorite, it’s the forensic accounting that showed the board members that Theranos was a house of cards. No one wants that data. But everyone in those situations needs it.
When cast in the light that Rosling provides, data objectively measures the problem and provides clues on how to fix it. So again, it’s a therapy that repairs.
It gets to a central paradox that Rosling has helped me understand: we avoid data because we don’t want bad news. But avoiding data to avoid bad news is like avoiding handshakes to avoid germs. It might help but the germs can still find a way. Same with bad news. Avoid the data if you want but you will still attract and cultivate bad news. Only worse: you’ll do it without any data to really inform you. This creates the misperceptions, a lack of factual thinking, a turn towards confirmation bias, fake news, filter bubbles, and now you are really lost.
Data is therapy. It can help you improve, repair, and recalibrate your worldview. As our author says, if your worldview is wrong, then you will systematically make wrong guesses.
So when it comes to our daily work, there needs to be a regular dance with data not just for the logos (facts and figures) but the pathos (emotion), too. Data can make you happier. This book is proof. I hope to show how through the rest of this week’s series, leading to the book review where I (spoiler alert) give this book a glowing go-read-it-now rating.