Factfulness – an accidental reminder of what good insight looks like

Last week I was in the Italian lakes, when I wasn’t soaking up the gorgeous views, discovering the countryside, and eating cheese I indulged in some holiday reading; Factfulness: Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think, by Hans Rosling.

Factfulness is a compelling and easy read revealing how 10 cognitive biases predispose us to perceiving the world significantly more negatively than it really is. To demonstrate this, Factfulness uses robust data sprinkled with anecdotes and real-world examples. The book has already been highly praised for providing a new way to see the world, and as I read through I was happily surprised to discover it’s also an excellent reminder for what good insight looks like.

If you can’t wait until you’ve read the book (you really should!), here are five highlights to bear in mind when it comes to good insight:

  • Better can still be bad – this is one of the main ideas underpinning Factfulness, which is that we can acknowledge progress while still accepting the need for improvement. For me, this serves a reminder that each piece of insight, no matter how good the results, should provide actionable direction towards the wider business objectives
  • Never underestimate the power of storytelling – Factfulness creates masterful narrative arcs that draw you in, bring data to life and stay fresh in your mind making it not only a pleasure to read but an easy way to understand and remember what could otherwise be an overwhelming amount of data, our presentations should do the same
  • Compare and contextualise – through a range of examples (think average data that distorts the true picture or how the interpretation of a number can change with an additional data point) this book emphasises the need for critical thinking and analytical exploration in order to go beyond the most convenient story to find the real story
  • Be curious and humble – it’s fairly established that researchers are curious by nature, but this point refers to our thinking style when conducting analysis. It’s a gentle nudge to leave our egos at the door and to take the time to understand the perspectives of others, be that respondents or clients so that our findings are grounded correctly
  • Data is powerful – ‘statistics as therapy’ is a subtitle within the book that warmed my heart (because I’m a massive data geek!). The idea that when used correctly, data can give us confidence and clarity in the world around us features throughout Factfulness and highlights the importance of data for business to understand markets and consumers
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