How much of the world’s population live in poverty? How many girls graduate from school? When we have to answer simple questions about global ...

Why we need factfulness

How much of the world’s population live in poverty? How many girls graduate from school? When we have to answer simple questions about global trends, we’re often wrong. Even chimpanzees – who answer randomly – outperform journalists, teachers and Nobel laureates in this test. Why is that and how can we avoid it?

During this summer, I read Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness: Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world. I was positively surprised by the data. The world was in much better shape than I thought.

Our lack of global knowledge is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to remain humble and curious, so we can confront the instincts that guide this ignorant behaviour.

In the book, Hans mentions how important it is to question your categories (the generalisation instinct) and learn to put large numbers in a greater context (the size instinct), among other things.

Factfulness can be described as:

“The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts”.

Marketers can create powerful stories using little-known facts. Instead of inventing target groups, marketers should look at the world with open eyes. And tell true stories that engage their audience.

But what does a more fact-based worldview look like?

A new framework for understanding the world

For starters, Hans Rosling hated the term “developed” and “developing countries”. According to him, these categories were dangerously outdated and reflected an older worldview. Instead, he suggested a new framework based on four different income levels. The purpose with the framework was to give a more balanced view of what life was like for people across the world.

Income level 1:
People earn less than two dollars per day. Roughly one billion people live in extreme poverty.

Income level 2:
People earn between two and eight dollars per day. Roughly three billion people live on this income level. They could for example own a bicycle, a mattress or a gas canister.

Income level 3:
People earn between 8 and 32 dollars per day. They have running water, maybe they own a motorcycle or a car. They probably have a fridge and access to electricity, which makes it easier for them to study and maintain a varied diet.

Income level 4:
People earn more than 32 dollars per day. They may have graduated from high school or university, they have running water at home (both warm and cold), they own their house, and they can go on a long vacation.

Visit Dollar Street to get a better understanding of how people live on the different income levels. But be careful not to generalise based on your own experiences from Level 4. When something looks strange, be humble and ask yourself: “In what way is this a smart solution?”

Keep your worldview up-to-date

Factfulness is more important than ever as lies, false rumours and extreme claims get shared on social media. Do you hold on to an outdated worldview, without knowing it? Test your own knowledge and see if you can outperform a chimpanzee… Take the full test at Gapminder.

Please reflect over your own marketing. Investigate what possibilities you have to reach new markets and audiences on the different income levels. For the curious and humble marketer, there is a lot of work to be done.

Photo: The Liu Family in China, photographed by Jianxing Cheng for Dollar Street (CC BY 4.0)