Beyond being Gates favorite book, Factfulness by Hans Rosling is a must read for  entrepreneurs and business owners.  Gates gave the book to every 2018 college grad for a reason.  Our knowledge is outdated and often several decades old.  Those over 30 must be especially mindful of this. 

Written by a Swedish doctor and his family of data visualization experts, prior to his death, the book offers a passionate plea for society to learn to control its drama intake, and avoid being constantly stressed out about the wrong things. How does this apply to business?  By replacing instinctive reactions with critical thinking you can focus on what truly matters both at home and at work.

1. This all starts by banishing binary thinking.  This is the us vs. them instinct that sparks unnecessary conflict.  It also appears as business managers and strategic planners examine global markets.  The United States vs. the rest of the world vision is both pervasive and antiquated.  As is the term "emerging market." Today only nine percent of the world lives in low income countries.  Almost everyone in the world is becoming a consumer. 

2. Then there is our negativity instinct.  Did you know that today people on average live 10 years longer?  These and other provocative statistics grounded by UN data can be explored here. Rosling, described himself as a "Possibilist," which is someone who neither hopes without reason or fears without reason."  So ask yourself, how do I watch the news without being carried away into dystopia on a daily basis.  How do I read business or trade press and find opportunity (rather than threats) for my company?

3. Next is the idea of size Instinct:  Never leave a number by itself.  Never believe one number on its own can be meaningful.  If a colleague or vendor offers one bold, startling number in their presentation, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with for context.

4. Follow the 80/20 rule; when you are examining a chart, budget or a spreadsheet what makes up 80 percent of the total?  What are the implications around that?  For example, by 2100 80 percent of the world's population will live in Africa and Asia.  What does this mean to your industry?  Many live in ignorance of the future economic marketplace.

5. Finally, we grapple with the single perspective instinct. Again, the world cannot be understood without numbers.  However, the world cannot be understood with numbers alone.  Big Pharma is currently failing to reach huge markets because they are obsessed over product innovation with customers they already have. 

On a last note, as you approach your work, welcome complexity, compromise and solve problems on a case by case basis.  Avoid your urgency instinct, by ignoring any and all calls to action that demand you act now.  Always ask for more time and more information. 

Think globally, Google and Microsoft have become global businesses, and made their "Americanness" almost invisible.  Both CEOs were raised and educated in India.

Now ask yourself, what makes your organization unique?  What are the most important facts in your company?  How many people know about them?  How do you do a better job of spreading your own factfulness both internally and externally?

Published on: Jul 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.