Finance Friday – February 10, 2017

 Lessons from Hans Rosling

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.  *

Hans Rosling passed away this week, and the world is already missing his insightful, impassioned analysis. I spent a wistful evening reviewing my favorite Rosling talks and exploring the terrific Gapminder site, and was reminded that the best data reveals ideas that extend far beyond the numbers. Here are some of my favorite lessons from Rosling:

  1. Beware of knowing. “The problem is not ignorance; the problem is preconceived ideas.”
  2. Be generous with your data. “Lots of amazing data is buried behind stupid passwords and boring statistics.” This was the motivation for starting Gapminder.
  3. Evolve! Rosling spent decades as a doctor working with rural communities in Africa, and then become one of the most famous and proficient data-presenters in the world. He connected these vocations in a stunning way when he worked with Ebola researchers in Liberia in 2014.
  4. Numbers are personal. “That’s when I believe the data, when it’s grandma-verified.”
  5. Nuance and detail matter. “I have a neighbor who knows 200 kinds of wine, but only 2 kinds of countries – ‘developing’ and ‘developed.’ I only know 2 kinds of wine – ‘red’ and ‘white’, but I know 200 countries.”
  6. The connections between data sets matter most. “That’s the magic of the washing machine – you put in clothes, you take out books!”
  7. Bedazzled lightning bolts make everything better. Do you doubt this? Watch here, and be sure to see the ending!

And last but not least,




The best 18 minutes you spend this week will be reviewing one of Rossling’s many TED talks, or exploring the Gapminder site, including it’s vivid new Dollar Street section.

* This quote is attributed to Mark Twain, and it is featured as Twain’s at the beginning of The Big Short movie, though it seems Twain said no such thing. Tolstoy said something quite similar, but with more words and fewer ain’ts.

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