How “now or never” can block our roads and our minds

Roadblocks and Mental Blocks

“If it’s not contagious, then why did you evacuate your children and wife?” asked the mayor of Nacala, eyeing me from a safe distance behind his desk. Out the window, a breathtaking sun was setting over Nacala district and its population of hundreds of thousands of extremely poor people, served by just one doctor—me.

Earlier that day I had arrived back in the city from a poor coastal area in the north named Memba. There I had spent two days using my hands to diagnose hundreds of patients with a terrible, unexplained disease that had completely paralyzed their legs within minutes of onset and, in severe cases, made them blind. And the mayor was right; I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was not contagious. I hadn’t slept the previous night but had stayed up, poring over my medical textbook, until I had finally concluded that the symptoms I was seeing had not been described before. I’d guessed this was some kind of poison rather than anything infectious, but I couldn’t be sure, and I had asked my wife to take our young children and leave the district.

Before I could figure out what to say, the mayor said, “If you think it could be contagious, I must do something. To avoid a catastrophe, I must stop the disease from reaching the city.”

The worst-case scenario had already unfolded in the mayor’s mind, and immediately spread to mine.

The mayor was a man of action. He stood up and said, “Should I tell the military to set up a roadblock and stop the buses from the north?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think it’s a good idea. You have to do something.”

The mayor disappeared to make some calls.

When the sun rose over Memba the next morning, some 20 women and their youngest children were already up, waiting for the morning bus to take them to the market in Nacala to sell their goods. When they learned the bus had been canceled, they walked down to the beach and asked the fishermen to take them by the sea route instead. The fishermen made room for everyone in their small boats, probably happy to be making the easiest money of their lives as they sailed south along the coast.

Nobody could swim and when the boats capsized in the waves, all the mothers and children and fishermen drowned.

That afternoon I headed north again, past the roadblock, to continue to investigate the strange disease. As I drove through Memba I came across a group of people lining up on the roadside dead bodies they had pulled put of the sea. I ran down to the beach but it was too late. I asked a man carrying the body of a young boy, “Why were all these children and mothers out in those fragile boats?”

“There was no bus this morning,” he said. Several minutes later I could still barely understand what I had done. Still today I can’t forgive myself. Why did I have to say to the mayor, “You must do something”?

I couldn’t blame these tragic deaths on the fishermen. Desperate people who need to get to market of course take the boat when the city authorities for some reason block their road.

I have no way to tell you how I carried on with the work I had to do that day and in the days afterward. And I didn’t talk about this to anyone else for 35 years.

But I did carry on with my work and eventually I discovered the cause of the paralytic disease: as I suspected, the people had been poisoned. The surprise was that they had not eaten anything new. The cassava that formed the basis for the local diet had to be processed for three days to make it edible. Everyone had always known that, so no one had ever even heard of anyone who had been poisoned or seen these symptoms. But this year, there had been a terrible harvest across the whole country and the government had been buying processed cassava at the highest price ever. The poor farmers were suddenly able to make that extra money they needed to escape poverty and were selling everything they had. After a successful day of selling, though, they were coming home hungry. So hungry that they couldn’t resist eating the unprocessed cassava roots straight from the fields. At 8 p.m. on August 21, 1981, this discovery transformed me from being a district doctor to being a researcher, and I spent the next ten years of my life investigating the interplay among economies, societies, toxins, and food.

Fourteen years later, in 1995, the ministers in Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo, heard that there was an Ebola outbreak in the city of Kitwik. They got scared. They felt they had to do something. They set up a roadblock.

Again, there were unintended consequences. Feeding the people in the capital became a major problem because the rural area that had always supplied most of their processed cassava was on the other side of the disease-stricken area. The city was hungry and started buying all it could from its second-largest food-producing area. Prices skyrocketed, and guess what? A mysterious outbreak of paralyzed legs and blindness followed.

Nineteen years after that, in 2014, there was an outbreak of Ebola in the rural north of Liberia. Inexperienced people from rich countries got scared and they all came up with the same idea: a roadblock!

At the Ministry of Health, I encountered politicians of a higher quality. They were more experienced, and their experience made them cautious. Their main concern was that roadblocks would destroy the trust of the people abandoned behind them. This would have been absolutely catastrophic: Ebola outbreaks are defeated by contact tracers, who depend on people honestly disclosing everybody they have touched. These heroes were sitting in poor slum dwellings carefully interviewing people who had just lost a family member about every individual their loved one might have infected before dying. Often, of course, the person being interviewed was on that list and potentially infected. Despite the constant fear and wave after wave of rumors, there was no room for drastic, panicky action. The infection path could not be traced with brute force, just patient, calm, meticulous work. One single individual delicately leaving out information about his dead brother’s multiple lovers could cost a thousand lives.

When we are afraid and under time pressure and thinking of worst-case scenarios, we tend to make really stupid decisions. Our ability to think analytically can be overwhelmed by an urge to make quick decisions and take immediate action.

Back in Nacala in 1981, I spent several days carefully investigating the disease but less than a minute thinking about the consequences of closing the road. Urgency, fear, and a single-minded focus on the risks of a pandemic shut down my ability to think things through. In the rush to do something, I did something terrible.

The Urgency Instinct

Now or never! Learn Factfulness now! Tomorrow may be too late!

You have reached the final instinct. Now it is time for you to decide. This moment will never come back. Never again will all these instincts be right there at the front of your mind. You have a unique opportunity, today, right now, to capture the insights of this book and completely change the way you think forever. Or you can just finish the book, close it, say to yourself “that was strange,” and carry on exactly as before.

But you have to decide now. You have to act now. Will you change the way you think today? Or live in ignorance forever? It’s up to you.

You have probably heard something like this before, from a salesperson or an activist. Both use a lot of the same techniques: “Act now, or lose the chance forever.” They are deliberately triggering your urgency instinct. The call to action makes you think less critically, decide more quickly, and act now.

Relax. It’s almost never true. It’s almost never that urgent, and it’s almost never an either/or. You can put the book down if you like and do something else. In a week or a month or a year you can pick it up again and remind yourself of its main points, and it won’t be too late. That is actually a better way to learn than trying to cram it all in at once.

The urgency instinct makes us want to take immediate action in the face of a perceived imminent danger. It must have served us humans well in the distant past. If we thought there might be a lion in the grass, it wasn’t sensible to do too much analysis. Those who stopped and carefully analyzed the probabilities are not our ancestors. We are the offspring of those who decided and acted quickly with insufficient information. Today, we still need the urgency instinct—for example, when a car comes out of nowhere and we need to take evasive action. But now that we have eliminated most immediate dangers and are left with more complex and often more abstract problems, the urgency instinct can also lead us astray when it comes to our understanding the world around us. It makes us stressed, amplifies our other instincts and makes them harder to control, blocks us from thinking analytically, tempts us to make up our minds too fast, and encourages us to take drastic actions that we haven’t thought through.

We do not seem to have a similar instinct to act when faced with risks that are far off in the future. In fact, in the face of future risks, we can be pretty slothful. That is why so few people save enough for their retirement.

This attitude toward future risk is a big problem for activists who are working on long timescales. How can they wake us up? How can they galvanize us into action? Very often, it is by convincing us that an uncertain future risk is actually a sure immediate risk, that we have a historic opportunity to solve an important problem and it must be tackled now or never: that is, by triggering the urgency instinct.

This method sure can make us act but it can also create unnecessary stress and poor decisions. It can also drain credibility and trust from their cause. The constant alarms make us numb to real urgency. The activists who present things as more urgent than they are, wanting to call us to action, are boys crying wolf. And we remember how that story ends: with a field full of dead sheep.

Learn to Control the Urgency Instinct. Special

Offer! Today Only!

When people tell me we must act now, it makes me hesitate. In most cases, they are just trying to stop me from thinking clearly.

A Convenient Urgency


Global climate experts believe that, over the next 100 years, the average temperature will …

A: get warmer

B: remain the same

C: get colder

“We need to create fear!” That’s what Al Gore said to me at the start of our first conversation about how to teach climate change. It was 2009 and we were backstage at a TED conference in Los Angeles. Al Gore asked me to help him and use Gapminder’s bubble graphs to show a worst-case future impact of a continued increase in CO2 emissions.

I had a profound respect at that time for Al Gore’s achievements in explaining and acting on climate change, and I still do. I am sure you got the fact question at the top of this section right: it’s the one question where our audiences always beat the chimps, with the large majority of people (from 94 percent in Finland, Hungary, and Norway, to 81 percent in Canada and the United States, to 76 percent in Japan) knowing very well what drastic change the climate experts are foreseeing. That high level of awareness is in no small part thanks to Al Gore. So is the enormous achievement of the 2015 Paris Agreement on reduction of climate change. He was—and still is—a hero to me. I agreed with him completely that swift action on climate change was needed, and I was excited at the thought of collaborating with him.

But I couldn’t agree to what he had asked.

I don’t like fear. Fear of war plus the panic of urgency made me see a Russian pilot and blood on the floor. Fear of pandemic plus the panic of urgency made me close the road and cause the drownings of all those mothers, children, and fishermen. Fear plus urgency make for stupid, drastic decisions with unpredictable side effects. Climate change is too important for that. It needs systematic analysis, thought-through decisions, incremental actions, and careful evaluation.

And I don’t like exaggeration. Exaggeration undermines the credibility of well-founded data: in this case, data showing that climate change is real, that it is largely caused by greenhouse gases from human activities such as burning fossil fuels, and that taking swift and broad action now would be cheaper than waiting until costly and unacceptable climate change happened. Exaggeration, once discovered, makes people tune out altogether.

I insisted that I would never show the worst-case line without showing the probable and the best-case lines as well. Picking only the worst-case scenario and—worse—continuing the line beyond the scientifically based predictions would fall far outside Gapminder’s mission to help people understand the basic facts. It would be using our credibility to make a call to action. Al Gore continued to press his case for fearful animated bubbles beyond the expert forecasts, over several more conversations, until finally I closed the discussion down. “Mr. Vice President. No numbers, no bubbles.”

Some aspects of the future are easier to predict than others. Weather forecasts are rarely accurate more than a week into the future. Forecasting a country’s economic growth and unemployment rates is also surprisingly difficult. That is because of the complexity of the systems involved. How many things do you need to predict, and how quickly do they change? By next week, there will have been billions of changes of temperature, wind speed, humidity. By next month, billions of dollars will have changed hands billions of times.

In contrast, demographic forecasts are amazingly accurate decades into the future because the systems involved—essentially, births and deaths—are quite simple. Children are born, grow up, have more children, and then die. Each individual cycle takes roughly 70 years.

But the future is always uncertain to some degree. And whenever we talk about the future we should be open and clear about the level of uncertainty involved. We should not pick the most dramatic estimates and show a worst-case scenario as if it were certain. People would find out! We should ideally show a mid-forecast, and also a range of alternative possibilities, from best to worst. If we have to round the numbers we should round to our own disadvantage. This protects our reputations and means we never give people a reason to stop listening.

Insist on the Data

Al Gore’s words echoed around my head long after that first conversation.

To be absolutely clear, I am deeply concerned about climate change because I am convinced it is real—as real as Ebola was in 2014. I understand the temptation to raise support by picking the worst projections and denying the huge uncertainties in the numbers. But those who care about climate change should stop scaring people with unlikely scenarios. Most people already know about and acknowledge the problem. Insisting on it is like kicking at an open door. It’s time to move on from talking talking talking. Let’s instead use that energy to solve the problem by taking action: action driven not by fear and urgency but by data and coolheaded analysis.

So, what is the solution? Well, it’s easy. Anyone emitting lots of greenhouse gas must stop doing that as soon as possible. We know who that is: the people on Level 4 who have by far the highest levels of CO2 emissions, so let’s get on with it. And let’s make sure we have a serious data set for this serious problem so that we can track our progress.

Looking for the data after my conversation with Al Gore, I was surprised how difficult it was to find. Thanks to great satellite images, we can track the North Pole ice cap on a daily basis. This removes any doubt that it is shrinking from year to year at a worrying speed. So we have good indications of the symptoms of global warming. But when I looked for the data to track the cause of the problem—mainly CO2 emissions—I found surprisingly little.

The per capita GDP growth of countries on Level 4 was being carefully tracked, with new official numbers released on a quarterly basis. But CO2 emissions data was being published only once every two years. So I started provoking the Swedish government to do better. In 2009, I started to lobby for quarterly publication of greenhouse gas data: If we cared about it, why weren’t we measuring it? How could we claim to be taking this problem seriously if we weren’t even tracking our progress?

I am very proud that, since 2014, Sweden now tracks quarterly greenhouse gas emissions (the first and still the only country to do so). This is Factfulness in action. Statisticians from South Korea recently visited Stockholm to learn how they could do the same.

Climate change is way too important a global risk to be ignored or denied, and the vast majority of the world knows that. But it is also way too important to be left to sketchy worst-case scenarios and doomsday prophets.

When you are called to action, sometimes the most useful action you can take is to improve the data.

A Convenient Fear

Still, the volume on climate change keeps getting turned up. Many activists, convinced it is the only important global issue, have made it a practice to blame everything on the climate, to make it the single cause of all other global problems.

They grab at the immediate shocking concerns of the day—the war in Syria, ISIS, Ebola, HIV, shark attacks, almost anything you can imagine—to increase the feeling of urgency about the long-term problem. Sometimes the claims are based on strong scientific evidence, but in many cases they are far-fetched, unproven hypotheses. I understand the frustrations of those struggling to make future risks feel concrete in the present. But I cannot agree with their methods.

Most concerning is the attempt to attract people to the cause by inventing the term “climate refugees.” My best understanding is that the link between climate change and migration is very, very weak. The concept of climate refugees is mostly a deliberate exaggeration, designed to turn fear of refugees into fear of climate change, and so build a much wider base of public support for lowering CO2 emissions.

When I say this to climate activists they often tell me that invoking fear and urgency with exaggerated or unsupported claims is justified because it is the only way to get people to act on future risks. They have convinced themselves that the end justifies the means. And I agree that it might work in the short term. But.

Crying wolf too many times puts at risk the credibility and reputation of serious climate scientists and the entire movement. With a problem as big as climate change, we cannot let that happen. Exaggerating the role of climate change in wars and conflicts, or poverty, or migration, means that the other major causes of these global problems are ignored, hampering our ability to take action against them. We cannot get into a situation where no one listens anymore. Without trust, we are lost.

And hotheaded claims often entrap the very activists who are using them. The activists defend them as a smart strategy to get people engaged, and then forget that they are exaggerating and become stressed and unable to focus on realistic solutions. People who are serious about climate change must keep two thoughts in their heads at once: they must continue to care about the problem but not become victims of their own frustrated, alarmist messages. They must look at the worst-case scenarios but also remember the uncertainty in the data. In heating up others, they must keep their own brains cool so that they can make good decisions and take sensible actions, and not put their credibility at risk.


I described in chapter 3 how, in 2014, I was too slow to understand the dangers of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It was only when I saw that the trend line was doubling that I understood. Even in this most urgent and fearful of situations though, I was determined to try to learn from my past mistakes, and act on the data, not on instinct and fear.

The numbers behind the official World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “suspected cases” curve were far from certain. Suspected cases means cases that are not confirmed. There were all kinds of issues: for example, people who at some point had been suspected of having Ebola but who, it turned out, had died from some other cause were still counted as suspected cases. As fear of Ebola increased, so did suspicion, and more and more people were “suspected.” As the normal health services staggered under the weight of dealing with Ebola and resources had to move away from treating other life-threatening conditions, more and more people were dying from non-Ebola causes. Many of these deaths were also treated as “suspect.” So the rising curve of suspected cases got more and more exaggerated and told us less and less about the trend in actual, confirmed cases.

If you can’t track progress, you don’t know whether your actions are working. So when I arrived at the Ministry of Health in Liberia, I asked how we could get a picture of the number of confirmed cases. I learned within a day that blood samples were being sent to four different labs, and their records, in long and messy Excel spreadsheets, were not being combined. We had hundreds of health-care workers from across the world flying in to take action, and software developers constantly coming up with new, pointless Ebola apps (apps were their hammers and they were desperate for Ebola to be a nail). But no one was tracking whether the action was working or not.

With permission, I sent the four Excel spreadsheets home to Ola in Stockholm, who spent 24 hours cleaning and combining them by hand, and then carrying out the same procedure one more time to make sure the strange thing he saw wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t. When a problem seems urgent the first thing to do is not to cry wolf, but to organize the data. To everybody’s surprise, the data came back showing that the number of confirmed cases had reached a peak two weeks earlier and was now dropping. The number of suspected cases kept increasing. Meanwhile, in reality, the Liberian people had successfully changed their behavior, eliminating all unnecessary body contact. There was no shaking hands and no hugging. This, and the pedantic obedience to strict hygiene measures being imposed in stores, public buildings, ambulances, clinics, burial sites, and everywhere else was already having the desired effect. The strategy was working, but until the moment Ola sent me the curve, nobody knew. We celebrated and then everybody continued their work, encouraged to try even harder now that they knew what they were doing was actually working.

I sent the falling curve to the World Health Organization and they published it in their next report. But the CDC insisted on sticking to the rising curve of “suspected cases.” They felt they had to maintain a sense of urgency among those responsible for sending resources. I understand they were acting from the best of intentions, but it meant that money and other resources were directed at the wrong things. More seriously, it threatened the long-term credibility of epidemiological data. We shouldn’t blame them. A long jumper is not allowed to measure her own jumps. A problem-solving organization should not be allowed to decide what data to publish either. The people trying to solve a problem on the ground, who will always want more funds, should not also be the people measuring progress. That can lead to really misleading numbers.

It was data—the data showing that suspected cases were doubling every three weeks—that made me realize how big the Ebola crisis was. It was also data—the data showing that confirmed cases were now falling—that showed me that what was being done to fight it was working. Data was absolutely key. And because it will be key in the future too, when there is another outbreak somewhere, it is crucial to protect its credibility and the credibility of those who produce it. Data must be used to tell the truth, not to call to action, no matter how noble the intentions.

Urgent! Read This Now!

Urgency is one of the worst distorters of our worldview. I know I probably said that about all the other dramatic instincts too, but I think maybe this one really is special. Or perhaps they all come together in this one. The overdramatic worldview in people’s heads creates a constant sense of crisis and stress. The urgent “now or never” feelings it creates lead to stress or apathy: “We must do something drastic. Let’s not analyze. Let’s do something.” Or, “It’s all hopeless. There’s nothing we can do. Time to give up.” Either way, we stop thinking, give in to our instincts, and make bad decisions.

The Five Global Risks We Should Worry About

I do not deny that there are pressing global risks we need to address. I am not an optimist painting the world in pink. I don’t get calm by looking away from problems. The five that concern me most are the risks of global pandemic, financial collapse, world war, climate change, and extreme poverty. Why is it these problems that cause me most concern? Because they are quite likely to happen: the first three have all happened before and the other two are happening now; and because each has the potential to cause mass suffering either directly or indirectly by pausing human progress for many years or decades. If we fail here, nothing else will work. These are mega killers that we must avoid, if at all possible, by acting collaboratively and step-by-step.

(There is a sixth candidate for this list. It is the unknown risk. It is the probability that something we have not yet even thought of will cause terrible suffering and devastation. That is a sobering thought. While it is truly pointless worrying about something unknown that we can do nothing about, we must also stay curious and alert to new risks, so that we can respond to them.)

Global Pandemic

The Spanish flu that spread across the world in the wake of the First World War killed 50 million people—more people than the war had, although that was partly because the populations were already weakened after four years of war. As a result, global life expectancy fell by ten years, from 33 to 23, as you can see from the dip in the curve here. Serious experts on infectious diseases agree that a new nasty kind of flu is still the most dangerous threat to global health. The reason: flu’s transmission route. It flies through the air on tiny droplets. A person can enter a subway car and infect everyone in it without them touching each other, or even touching the same spot. An airborne disease like flu, with the ability to spread very fast, constitutes a greater threat to humanity than diseases like Ebola or HIV/AIDS. Protecting ourselves in every possible way from a virus that is highly transmissible and ignores every type of defense is worth the effort, to put it mildly.

The world is more ready to deal with flu than it has been in the past, but people on Level 1 still live in societies where it can be difficult to intervene rapidly against an aggressively spreading disease. We need to ensure that basic health care reaches everyone, everywhere, so that outbreaks can be discovered more quickly. And we need the World Health Organization to remain healthy and strong to coordinate a global response.

Financial Collapse

In a globalized world, the consequences of financial bubbles are devastating. They can crash the economies of entire countries and put huge numbers of people out of work, creating disgruntled citizens looking for radical solutions. A really large bank collapse could be way worse than the global eruption that started with the US housing loan crash in 2009. It could crash the entire global economy.

Since even the best economists in the world failed to predict the last crash and fail year on year to predict the recovery from it—because the system is too complicated for accurate predictions—there is no reason to suppose that because no one is predicting a crash, it will not happen. If we had a simpler system there might be some chance of understanding it and working out how to avoid future collapses.

World War III

My whole life I have done all I can to establish relations with people in other countries and cultures. It’s not only fun but also necessary to strengthen the global safety net against the terrible human instinct for violent retaliation and the worst evil of all: war.

We need Olympic Games, international trade, educational exchange programs, free internet—anything that lets us meet across ethnic groups and country borders. We must take care of and strengthen our safety nets for world peace. Without world peace, none of our sustainability goals will be achievable. It’s a huge diplomatic challenge to prevent the proud and nostalgic nations with a violent track record from attacking others now that they are losing their grip on the world market. We must help the old West to find a new way to integrate itself peacefully into the new world.

Climate Change

It is not necessary to look only at the worst-case scenario to see that climate change poses an enormous threat. The planet’s common resources, like the atmosphere, can only be governed by a globally respected authority, in a peaceful world abiding by global standards.

This can be done: we did it already with ozone depleters and with lead in gasoline, both of which the world community reduced to almost zero in two decades. It requires a strong, well-functioning international community (to be clear, I am talking about the UN). And it requires some sense of global solidarity toward the needs of different people on different income levels. The global community cannot claim such solidarity if it talks about denying the 1 billion people on Level 1 access to electricity, which would add almost nothing to overall emissions. The richest countries emit by far the most CO2 and must start improving first before wasting time pressuring others.

Extreme Poverty

The other risks I have mentioned are highly probable scenarios that would bring unknown levels of future suffering. Extreme poverty isn’t really a risk. The suffering it causes is not unknown, and not in the future. It’s a reality. It’s misery, day to day, right now. It is also where Ebola outbreaks come from, because there are no health services to encounter them at an early stage; and where civil wars start, because young men desperate for food and work, and with nothing to lose, tend to be more willing to join brutal guerrilla movements. It’s a vicious circle: poverty leads to civil war, and civil war leads to poverty. The civil conflicts in Afghanistan and central Africa mean that all other sustainability projects in those places are on hold. Terrorists hide in the few remaining areas of extreme poverty. When rhinos are stuck in the middle of a civil war, it’s much more difficult to save them.

Today, a period of relative world peace has enabled a growing global prosperity. A smaller proportion of people than ever before is stuck in extreme poverty. But there are still 800 million people left. Unlike with climate change, we don’t need predictions and scenarios. We know that 800 million are suffering right now. We also know the solutions: peace, schooling, universal basic health care, electricity, clean water, toilets, contraceptives, and microcredits to get market forces started. There’s no innovation needed to end poverty. It’s all about walking the last mile with what’s worked everywhere else. And we know that the quicker we act, the smaller the problem, because as long as people remain in extreme poverty they keep having large families and their numbers keep increasing. Providing these necessities of a decent life, quickly, to the final billion is a clear, fact-based priority.

The hardest to help will be those stuck behind violent and chaotic armed gangs in weakly governed states. To escape poverty, they will need a stabilizing military presence of some kind. They will need police officers with guns and government authority to defend innocent citizens against violence and to allow teachers to educate the next generation in peace.

Still I’m possibilistic. The next generation is like the last runner in a very long relay race. The race to end extreme poverty has been a marathon, with the starter gun fired in 1800. This next generation has the unique opportunity to complete the job: to pick up the baton, cross the line, and raise its hands in triumph. The project must be completed. And we should have a big party when we are done.

Knowing that some things are enormously important is, for me, relaxing. These five big risks are where we must direct our energy. These risks need to be approached with cool heads and robust, independent data. These risks require global collaboration and global resourcing. These risks should be approached through baby steps and constant evaluation, not through drastic actions. These risks should be respected by all activists, in all causes. These risks are too big for us to cry wolf.

I don’t tell you not to worry. I tell you to worry about the right things. I don’t tell you to look away from the news or to ignore the activists’ calls to action. I tell you to ignore the noise, but keep an eye on the big global risks. I don’t tell you not to be afraid. I tell you to stay coolheaded and support the global collaborations we need to reduce these risks. Control your urgency instinct. Control all your dramatic instincts. Be less stressed by the imaginary problems of an overdramatic world, and more alert to the real problems and how to solve them.


Factfulness is … recognizing when a decision feels urgent and remembering that it rarely is.

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. It’s rarely now or never and it’s rarely either/or.

• Insist on the data. If something is urgent and important, it should be measured. Beware of data that is relevant but inaccurate, or accurate but irrelevant. Only relevant and accurate data is useful.

• Beware of fortune-tellers. Any prediction about the future is uncertain. Be wary of predictions that fail to acknowledge that. Insist on a full range of scenarios, never just the best or worst case. Ask how often such predictions have been right before.

• Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested. Step-by-step practical improvements, and evaluation of their impact, are less dramatic but usually more effective.





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