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Problem Solving

97 SAVED IDEAS

Hans Rosling
“Step-by-step, year-by-year, the world is improving. Not on every single measure every single year, but as a rule. Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview.”

@weston_fii793

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Problem Solving

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Factfulness

by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

The Gap Instinct
  • This is that irresistible temptation we have to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups, with an imagined gap in between.
  • The gap instinct makes us imagine division where there is just a smooth range, differences where there is convergence, and conflicts where there is agreement.
  • The gap instinct creates a picture in people’s heads of a world split into two kinds of countries or two kinds of people: rich versus poor.
HANS ROSLING
"Human beings have a strong dramatic instinct toward binary thinking, a basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between. We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time."

Rember that reality is often not polarized at all. To control the gap instinct, look for the majority.

  • Beware comparisons of averages. If you could check the spreads you would probably find they overlap. There is probably no gap at all.
  • Beware comparisons of extremes. In all groups, there are some at the top and some at the bottom. But even when the difference is extremely unfair, the majority is usually somewhere in between, right where the gap is supposed to be.
  • The view from up here. Remember, looking down from above distorts the view. Everything else looks equally short, but it’s not.
The Negativity Instinct

The negativity instinct describes our tendency to notice the bad more than the good.

So when you hear about something terrible, calm yourself by asking, If there had been an equally large positive improvement, would I have heard about that?

Remember that information about bad events is much more likely to reach us. Expect bad news.

  • Better and bad. Practice distinguishing between a level (e.g., bad) and a direction of change (e.g., better). Convince yourself that things can be both better and bad.
  • Good news is not news. Good news is almost never reported. When you see bad news, ask whether equally, positive news would have reached you.
  • Gradual improvement is not news. When a trend is gradually improving, with periodic dips, you are more likely to notice the dips than the overall improvement.
  • More news does not equal more suffering. More bad news is sometimes due to better surveillance of suffering, not a worsening world.
  • Beware of rosy pasts. People often glorify their early experiences, and nations often glorify their histories.
The Straight Line Instinct

This instinct describes our tendency to assume that a line will just continue straight and ignoring that such lines are rare in reality.

But don’t assume straight lines. Many trends do not follow straight lines but are S-bends, slides, humps, or double lines. No child ever kept up the rate of growth it achieved in its first six months, and no parents would expect it to.

It's true that the world population is increasing. Very fast. But it’s not just increasing.

The “just” implies that, if nothing is done, the population will just keep on growing. It implies that some drastic action is needed in order to stop the growth. That is the misconception based on our instinct to assume that lines are straight.

The Fear Instinct

The fear instinct describes our tendency to pay more attention to frightening things.

These fears are hardwired deep in our brains for obvious evolutionary reasons. Fears of physical harm, captivity, and poison once helped our ancestors survive. In modern times, perceptions of these dangers still trigger our fear instinct.

HANS ROSLING
"For the first time in world history, data exists for almost every aspect of global development. And yet, because of our dramatic instincts and the way the media must tap into them to grab our attention, we continue to have an overdramatic worldview. Of all our dramatic instincts, it seems to be the fear instinct that most strongly influences what information gets selected by news producers and presented to us consumers."
HANS ROSLING
“The image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.”
HANS ROSLING
“Critical thinking is always difficult, but it’s almost impossible when we are scared. There’s no room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear.”

Recognize when frightening things get your attention, and remember that these are not necessarily the riskiest. Calculate the risks.

  • The scary world: fear vs. reality. The world seems scarier than it is because what you hear about it has been selected precisely because it is scary.
  • Risk = danger × exposure. How dangerous is something? And how much are you exposed to it?
  • When you are afraid, you see the world differently. Make as few decisions as possible until the panic has subsided.
The Size Instinct

The size instinct describes our tendency to get things out of proportion, or misjudge the size of things.

To avoid getting things out of proportion you need only these tools: comparing and dividing:

  • Compare. Big numbers always look big. Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious. Always look for comparisons.
  • Divide. Amounts and rates can tell very different stories. Rates are more meaningful, especially when comparing between different-sized groups. In particular, look for rates per person when comparing between countries or regions.
  • This instinct can make us mistakenly group together things that are actually very different
  • It can make us assume everything or everyone in one category is similar.
  • It can make us jump to conclusions about a whole category based on a few, or even just one, unusual example.
How To Control The Generalization Instinct

Remember that categories are misleading. So question your categories.

  • Look for differences within groups. Especially when the groups are large, look for ways to split them into smaller, more precise categories
  • Look for similarities across groups.
  • Look for differences across groups. Do not assume that what applies for one group applies for another /
  • Beware of “the majority.” Ask whether it means 51 percent, 99 percent, or something in between.
  • Beware of vivid examples. They are easier to recall but they might be the exception rather than the rule.
  • When something looks strange, be curious and humble.

This is the idea that innate characteristics determine the destinies of people, countries, religions, or cultures. It’s the idea that things are as they are for ineluctable, inescapable reasons: they have always been this way and will never change.

Remember that many things (people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly, and remember that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes.

The Single Perspective Instinct

A single perspective can limit your imagination; look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions.

  • Test your ideas. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.
  • Limited expertise. Don’t claim expertise beyond your field: be humble about what you don’t know. Be aware too of the limits of the expertise of others.
  • Be open to ideas from other fields.
  • Welcome complexity. History is full of visionaries who used simple utopian visions to justify terrible actions. Combine ideas. Compromise. Solve problems on a case-by-case basis.

The blame instinct describes our tendency to find a clear, simple reason for why something bad has happened.

  • To control the blame instinct, resist finding a scapegoat. Look for causes, not villains. Accept that bad things can happen without anyone intending them to. 
  • Look for systems, not heroes. When someone claims to have caused something good, ask whether the outcome might have happened anyway, even if that individual had done nothing. 
The Urgency Instinct

The urgency instinct describes our tendency to take immediate action in the face of perceived imminent danger, and in doing so, amplifying our other instincts.

To control the urgency instinct, take small steps.

  • Take a breath. When your urgency instinct is triggered, your other instincts kick in and your analysis shuts down. Ask for more time and more information.
  • Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested.
Unable To Change Minds

Most of the people we encounter refuse to change their minds during a discussion or debate, even when provided with hard facts that contradict their stand. As most of us have learnt the hard way in the last few years, it is extremely difficult to persuade anyone with strong beliefs or ideologies.

It is human nature due to ‘motivated reasoning’, which leads to many kinds of biases, as the reasoning process of our mind is akin to a lawyer defending a client.

  • Facts do not change minds is a hard concept for logical people like us to grasp, but it has been long known that human beings are emotional creatures and are not as logical as we assume.
  • We readily accept new information without scrutiny or critical analysis which is in agreement with our existing set of beliefs and assumptions.
  • Intelligence is mostly applied in a one-sided and biased manner, serving our own beliefs and preconceptions.
  • Most of us even prefer to believe in what we have already invested, as it is easier, more comfortable and strengthens our ego and identity.

As most of us have preexisting mental models, it is hard to change one’s mind and completely eliminate the various cognitive biases.

  1. Start with an open mind about people who disagree with you.
  2. Question your own assumptions and beliefs, aiming to understand the big picture and taking a holistic view.
  3. Be critical of sources that support your own belief.
  4. Come into the other person’s shoes and see things from their point of view, deeply and sincerely.
  5. Even if people understand your point of view, they may still stick with theirs due to their status, appearance or position.
  6. If you encounter new information, try to be curious and intrigued instead of defensive.
The Alternative To Absolutes: The Gray Area

Many of us are practising all-or-nothing thinking, believing that the world is in absolute terms, and assuming that something that is not completely black or white has negative connotations or is murky and confusing.

The often-resisted gray areas, where the answers are not certain, quick or clear, are paradoxically the very places that one can start to experience peace and contentment, and minimize anxiety.

Thinking in absolute terms is preferred as it appears certain, simple and less taxing on the brain. There is a certain cockiness in thinking in binary terms, as it gives us an illusion that we have everything figured out, and provides us with a false sense of confidence.

Simplicity and insight comes with the understanding that reality is never black or white, but is some shade of gray.

Understanding and embracing the gray area has many benefits:

  • By understanding that things are not black or white, one has fewer expectations and assumptions, leading to less anxiety.
  • Acceptance of imperfections makes life easy, and it is proven that perfection can be dangerous and unhealthy.
  • One leads a better life and is less inclined towards certain addictions, which are symptoms of avoiding gray areas at all costs.
  1. Set boundaries and moderate your tolerance levels towards the bad.
  2. Understand that it is not always possible to score 100 percent, and 75 percent isn’t a bad score.
  3. Embrace multiple options, diverse choices and the for-or-against mentality, refusing to shut yourself in an echo chamber.
  4. Be more curious when you hear something that is not according to your beliefs, assumptions or upbringing.
  5. Challenge your own narratives and assumptions.
  6. Realize that you are yourself a bundle of beautiful contradictions, which make you unique.
Polymaths

A Polymath is defined as one who is specialized in at least two unrelated fields or domains while having a passive interest in other domains too. They are individualists that hold a holistic view of the world.

Polymaths have an interest in many different phenomena and are curious and adventurous by nature, looking to experience and uncover new facts.

Qualities Of A Polymath

When polymaths become interested in something, they don't care which domain or sphere it leads them. Some qualities of a Polymath person:

  • Above-average intelligence
  • Open-mindedness
  • Curiosity
  • Self-reliance
  • Individualism
  • A desire for personal fulfillment
  • Desire to find connections.
Waqas Ahmed
The polymath not only moves between different spheres or different fields and disciplines, but seeks fundamental connections between those fields, so as to give them a unique insight into each of them.
Understanding A Polymath

Genetic and environmental factors, along with curiosity and self-awareness, make polymaths complex personalities.

They have historically been rebels, as society has always encouraged individuals to specialize in a particular field.

Jack of All Trades

The idea of "A jack of all trades, master of none" falls flat when we study the polymath.

Pursuing multiple interests can fuel creativity and productivity, creating connections between domains, leading to cross-pollination.

Feeding Off Diverse Knowledge

Polymathy leads to creativity, as one domain can inspire something new in a different domain.

For example: Having knowledge of geometry can help in painting, or knowing to play the piano, one can apply more creativity in a domain like mechanical engineering, by forming connections.

Switching Subjects

What we can learn from polymaths: we can be better and more productive at our jobs if we keep switching between different skills or subjects, changing our environment, the company we keep and our interests. This is also an excellent tool to solve problems.

The history of "creativity"
  • Creativity, as a power belonging to an individual, doesn't go back very far. The first recorded usage of the word creativity came from the Oxford English Dictionary in the 17th century: 'In Creation, we have God and his Creativity.'
  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, the creative power was thought of as divine. The idea of a secular creative ability in the imaginative arts didn't appear until the Romantic Era when the poet William Wordsworth addressed the painter and critic Benjamin Haydon: 'Creative art...demands the service of a mind and heart.'
  • In the 1970s, writers reflected on the newness of the concept of creativity, that it was valuable and in need of encouragement.
  • Before WWII, the word 'creativity' was then expressed as genius, originality, productivity, or even intelligence.
  • During the 19th and 20th centuries, categories such as original and productive thought were reworked as mundane, manifestations of ordinary abilities, as competences that do not belong to an endowed individual.
  • French biologist Louis Pasteur said in 1854 on originality as a special gift: 'Fortune favours the prepared mind.'
  • In 1903, American inventor Thomas Edison said of genius that it is '1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration'.
  • Albert Einstein thought it intellectually and morally wrong to attribute gifts to people like him. 'It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them.'

In the early 20th century, original work entered the world of commerce. Chemical, pharmaceutical and electrical companies hired large numbers of academically trained scientists, believing that innovation was vital to commercial success and that science belonged in commercial organisations.

Companies such as General Electric and Eastman Kodak didn't think creative and productive work had anything to do with hiring awkward geniuses but with finding the organisational forms that allowed ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things.

  • In 1920, a reflective director of industrial research at Eastman Kodak acknowledged the reality and value of genius. Well-trained and motivated scientific workers could make valuable contributions even though they were untouched by genius.
  • In the 1950s, employers varied in opinion about whether the organisational difficulties in looking after genius were worth the effort. If you wanted profits, you had to allow intellectual freedom and allow the scientific workers to do just what they wanted to do for some of the time.

The military was a key factor in creativity's Cold War history, particularly American history.

A psychologist wrote: 'In the presence of threat, creativity could no longer be left to the chance occurrence of genius; neither could it be left in the realm of the wholly mysterious and the untouchable. Men had to be able to do something about it; creativity had to be a property in many men; it had to be something identifiable; it had to be subject to efforts to gain more of it.'

In 1950, a leading psychologist lamented that only a small proportion of professional literature was concerned with creativity.

Within a decade, a 'creativity movement' developed. Seminars on 'creative engineering' were held, asking what creativity is, why it's important, what factors influence it, how it should be developed. There was never a consensus about whether particular definitions were right, but sentiment settled around a substantive link between creativity and the idea of divergent thinking. People were thought to be creative if they could branch out and imagine a range of possible solutions.

By its nature, creativity is individual, eccentric, and antagonistic to attempts to plan to organise it. An effort to manage creative people might result in only getting the appearance of creativity.

The categories of being creative, or a creative person, transitioned over time from the sacred power to a secular ability. From the 1950s onward, creativity has been established as something desirable and essential, a value that was the source of many other values.

Marketing expert Theodore Levitt published an essay in 1963, 'Creativity is not enough.' Levitt stated that creativity might be a source of new ideas, but it is not ideal for good business outcomes. There is no short supply of new ideas.

Creativity is having a new idea, while innovation is the realisation of an idea in a specific outcome. It is innovation that really matters. Creative people tend to be irresponsible and detached from the processes of achieving results.

The rise of creativity has continued since the Cold War. Many expert practices have been incorporated into the everyday life of organisations committed to producing useful novelty.

The specific language of creativity has become normalized just as new and useful making has become normalized. Producing new and useful things is not less important than it once was, but creativity has become so invested with value that the meaning and practices of real creativity are at risk of being lost.

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