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“The world cannot be explained without numbers; and the world cannot be explained with numbers alone”

I have had a number of conversations of late where despite factual evidence, there are plenty of opinions abound what happened, and usually there is no data to back these up. Now, before you wonder whether I have been following geo-politics at all of late, I continue to be surprised by this new ‘alternative facts’ mindset. Which is why I really enjoyed reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling, from where I took the quote in the title of this article.


The summer period is traditionally a period where I read up on topics not directly related to our work: fiction, non-fiction, biographies – anything that is pleasant in the shade of our pohutukawa tree. Most of the time the link to our work in people-centred productivity improvement is there, because invariably I’ll learn something interesting, and a growth mindset and yearning for learning are the yeast for any improvement. “Factfulness, 10 reasons why we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think” is therefore a refreshing and uplifting read, with the quote “The world cannot be explained without numbers; and the world cannot be explained with numbers alone” resonating with me for weeks after. If your view is not backed up by accepted evidence in verifiable numbers, it is just an opinion. It is the ‘measure’ in DMAIC that leads us to truth. But it is the story-telling that us Kiwi’s relate to best, the explanation of the context around the numbers, that help us understand true north.


So how do you deal with folks that have an opinion not backed up by facts? Walking away or ridicule only emphasises the partisanship and is not effective long-term. Engaging the person in conversation (active listening) works, especially the question “what evidence do you need to see for you to change your opinion”. If this is ruled out, it will highlight a closed mind, one that (unfortunately) will not lead to any improvement.