How the Global Ignorance Test and the Gapminder Data System works in the context of “Futuristic” Management Consulting
Tristan & Matthias Horx
What do we think about the world? The answer to this question is not trivial. In a “post-fact culture”, where rationality seems to vanish in the storms of lies and conspiracy theories, beliefs about the future are crucial. If we believe that the world can’t be rescued, we become either cynical or depressed. But facts are, as we know from cognition psychology, not facts for the brain – they are informations without meaning until they become “framed” by emotion and belief.
We have been working in forecasting and trend research for more than 20 years, throughout the German-speaking countries and beyond. Never has the future seemed so bland, so negative, when a Zeitgeist of pessimism is tearing apart old models of past, present and future. We have been using the Global Ignorance test with small and big audiences, mostly managers and entrepreneurs. Our consultancy company ZUKUNFTSINSTITUT (40+ employees, Vienna and Frankfurt) does up to a hundred long-term consulting processes and hundreds of speeches a year. This means reaching approximately 10.000 people with power and responsibility each year. Our goal is to give them proper insight into the real changes in our world, the so-called Megatrends. The wider goal is to teach systemic thinking and multi-perspective management.
Using the Global Ignorance Test on these audiences has a wonderful cathartic effect. As the Rosling family have shown again and again, the more people think they are “experts” in terms of trends and world knowledge, the less they tend to be. The higher the ranks of management, the worse the answers to the questions such as “How much did the flow of worldwide emigrants increase in the last ten years?”. Their reactions to their own wrongness are a brief silence, followed by astonishment. In this silence, new thinking occurs. We can feel their brains aching and scratching, and we turn this energy around into a new openness and understanding. This enables us to convey a new understanding of globalisation and the implications for management and responsibility. Communicating this is such an integral part of our work, that we have published a study on it in the Summer of 2017 – The New Global (Available in German here: https://onlineshop.zukunftsinstitut.de/shop/generation-global/).
Sometimes we experience quite funny open denials. A manager of a telecommunication company recently stuttered in disbelief: “This may be true, but I don’t want to be convinced!” And this is exactly where the test is so brilliant. Paired with the emotionality of the Dollar Street documentations, we can change people’s perceptions of the global world, and thus help them move in the right direction.
Experience shows, the more you can “shock” the audience with their own misconceptions, the more they listen to new ideas and points of views in what follows. This is why starting our presentations with the global ignorance test works so well – it confronts the brain with its own cognitive dissonance and biases.
The cathartic effect is deepened when we show the Gapminder data and how to use it. Thanks to the tools of the Rosling family, we have managed to help hundreds, if not thousands of minds think differently about the world and the future. This we hope might have helped a bit to save the world, because only constructive minds can create constructive business. If the future has to be saved “in the mind”, the Gapminder Data System is the best “weapon” we have. Just as the aliens in the new science fiction film “Arrival” called their sophisticated language a “weapon” in the sense of future knowledge, Gapminder is a key tool for mind-changing for a better future.