Book review: Factfulness

A marvelous revelation – a must read

Once in a while comes along a book that startles, educates and moves you all at once. Factfulness is one such book. There is no category of ‘readers’ who can afford to miss reading an important book as this. For, nowhere have I been able to get a concise education about the world, the people who live in it, their problems, categories, income levels, circumstances, health levels – all at once. A book that is enlightening and hopeful by pointing out how the world is actually much better than it was in the past and gives reasons to acknowledge, understand and still continue to take action to improve in the areas that is yet needed.

A fact based understanding of the world is the ‘mission’ of this book. Most people who take the test at the beginning of the book score miserably at it. And this sets the premise for the book, with Hans providing tools, information and advice on how we human beings are (naturally) clouded by our many instincts, making us ‘get the world wrong’. He teaches us to be inspired and hopeful by the progress human kind has made, while equipping ourselves with tools, data and understanding, in order to solve the world’s problems.

Whether you are a student, educator, innovator, scientist, researcher, marketer, social worker, investment banker or none of the above, I think it is imperative to understand what this book is trying to say. I was able to reflect upon my own fallacies, often ready to generalize experiences and use them to form opinions (about the Western world, for example). Every chapter, every instinct pointed out by Hans rings true. Personally, the mention of my country of birth (India) and a company where I had a long professional stint (Novartis) struck a very deep chord. But the whole point of the book is to come outside your own world view and get a picture of the world as it is. To not see problems from your point of view, or those that serve you or the cause you are passionate about, but establish a reality.

The really big picture, is how I’d summarize this book. It really helps to know what the BIG picture is and to get it right. For example Hans provides a mnemonic to understand how the world population is roughly split across the continents (around 2015) and in future (around 2100). He points how this composition is vital to understanding where the world’s consumers are going to be, what their demographics are expected to be, what their income levels are expected to be and so on. Isn’t this important to know this -he points out – if you are investing money for growth, or looking for the next 100 million customers for your products, or deploying non-profit funds for improving health conditions in areas of extreme poverty?

Then there are the incredible tools on how to overcome the ten instincts – Gap, Negativity, Straight Line, Fear, Size, Generalization, Destiny, Single, Blame and Urgency – to get the right understanding of the world and the problem you are faced with. Hans illustrates incredible examples from his own rich and varied experience that saw him travel to and interact with people from all levels of income, spread across people from so many countries and continents. The stereotypes of life and how people live, that can only be overcome by travelling, meeting and interacting with them in their natural environment. Everything from judicious resource allocation to urgent decisions made without thinking through can impact lives. Public policy and private response, capitalism and socialism, democracy and military autocracy – everything has to work hand in hand and works case by case. In other words, it is rarely a one glove fits all approach.

Visit www. gapminder.org – the website and foundation that Hans’s son and daughter in law run. The site is a wealth of data, insights and charts. Visit www.dollarstreet.org to educate children on how life is across different income levels (If you can’t travel with them)

The last time I implored people to read a book was when I discovered the role of patient capital and social entrepreneurship to solve poverty – brilliantly explained in a similar fashion by Jacqueline Novogratz in ‘The Blue Sweater’. I find this book as compelling and recommend it to everyone that knows how to read – if for no greater purpose than just understanding the world we live in today. And to fill us with positivity, hope and inspiration.