Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think starts with a 13-question survey about the world today.  And most people get it stupidly wrong.  The premise of the book is that people are “wrong” about the world because they have been conditioned to it, and our educational systems, media, and society in general keep perpetuating an inaccurate worldview.

Yet the world IS getting better and the authors, Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Ronnlund confirm these positive changes using metrics around child mortality, per capita income, healthcare, deaths due to diseases, children being vaccinated, literacy levels, gender equality, etc.  The Roslings created a compelling visual comparison about “Life on Four Income Levels” that is a pretty persuasive argument that the world is getting progressively better than we think!

The danger here is that we (you, me, politicians, CEOs, and industry leaders) are making important decisions about our future using an outdated view of the world.  Now that’s scary!  In fact, after I started reading this book, I became a little skeptical of broad statements about the world made without data.  Even when a data source was mentioned, I wanted to dive in to discover the origins because we have ten “Dramatic Instincts” or biases that reinforce our tendency to be wrong about the world:

  • The Gap Instinct.  Whenever a story talks about a gap, it paints the picture of two separate groups, with a gap in between. The reality is often not polarized at all.  Usually, the majority is right there in the middle, where the gap is supposed to be.  So beware of comparisons of averages, extremes, and points of view.
  • The Negativity Instinct.  Information about bad events is much more likely to reach us.  When things are getting better, we often don’t hear about this.  This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world.  Good news and gradual improvements are almost never reported.  Practice distinguishing a report that is “bad” and ask yourself about the direction of change (better, same, or worse).  Just because you are hearing about it more doesn’t mean things are worse. Things can both be better and bad.
  • The Straight Line Instinct. Recognize the assumption that a line will continue to continue to go straight up.  Such lines are rare in reality.
  • The Fear Instinct.  Our natural fears of violence, captivity, and contamination make us systematically overestimate these risks.  The world seems scarier because what you hear has been carefully selected to be told. Remember, Risk = Danger x Exposure, and act accordingly. Make decisions only when you’re calm after the panic has subsided.
  • The Size Instinct.  Big numbers always look big.  Single numbers on their own are misleading and should make you suspicious.  Always look for comparisons.  Ideally, divide by something. When comparing between different-size groups, look for rates per person (or “basket.”  Chip Heath does a great job describing this in his book, Making Numbers Count). Use the 80/20 rule.
  • The Generalization Instinct.  When a category is being used in an explanation, question the categories as they can be misleading. Look for differences within a category and look for similarities and differences across groups. Beware of the term ‘Majority’ – it can mean 51% or 99% or anything in between. Beware of vivid images, which are easier to recall but can be exceptions to the rule.
  • The Destiny Instinct.  Many things, (including people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly.  Slow change is still change so keep track of gradual improvements.
  • The Single Perspective Instinct. It is simply easier to focus on a single problem, cause, or solution. It is better to look at problems from many angles and test your ideas to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions.
  • The Blame Instinct.  When something goes wrong, we instinctively blame it on someone or something. To control this, resist finding a scapegoat. Look for causes, not villains. Finally, look for systems and processes, not heroes.
  • The Urgency Instinct. When a decision feels urgent, it rarely is.  To control this instinct, take a breath and insist on relevant and accurate data.  Beware of predictions that fail to acknowledge uncertainty and drastic actions without considering the side effects.

Even though the world is getting better, at the same time, there is still huge room for improvement.  After reading this book, I feel much more equipped to question any assertion that tells me otherwise!


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I love using this activity to demonstrate the harmful effects of overadjusting a process.  It is a variation of Deming’s Funnel Experiment – and a big shout out to Steve Holcomb who first introduced me to this concept!

You will need four groups of 3 to 5 people each and a time allotment of 30 minutes.

Materials needed are:

  • One pack of playing cards per team
  • Four tape measurers
  • Four colored dots to serve as the “target” – one colored dot for each team
  • A dozen colored dots of a different color to serve as the last targeted position for Team B
  • “Rule cards” for each team
  • A data collection form for each team (optional)

You will want to use a room large enough for four teams of people to stand and work in small circles. Place a colored dot in the center of each of the four teams. Prior to the session, place one colored dot or “target” on the floor for each of the four teams.  Each team will be congregating around the dot – so you need to make sure there is enough room for all to do this exercise comfortably.

Divide the team members into four teams. Tell each group to go stand around their designated dot on the floor, or “targets.”

Tell the teams that the objective of this exercise is to produce as many products as close to the target as possible while following their particular “rule.” Hold up the four cards for all to see.

Tell the teams that they produce product by dropping one playing card from shoulder height. Demonstrate dropping the card – drop the card perpendicular (not horizontal) to the colored dot or “target” on the floor; this provides the most variation!

Reiterate the goal: to produce as many products as close to the target as possible, while following their particular rule. Hand out one deck of playing cards, tape measure and one “rule card” to each team. Go over the rules for each team:

  • Team A: Don’t adjust. Drop every card over the target.


  • Team B: After each drop, measure the distance (z) from the target to the spot where the card landed. Set the next drop position over the point (-z) from the last targeted position. Use the additional colored dots to mark your last targeted position.

  • Team C: After each drop, measure the distance (z) from the target to the spot where the card landed. Set the next drop position over the point (-z) from the target (same distance, but opposite direction).

  • Team D: Set the next drop position right over the spot where the last dropped card landed.

Allow the teams to produce a dozen or so products. Pay particular attention to teams B and C; their rules are the toughest to follow.

Debrief and Summarize

After all have finished dropping at least twelve cards, review the distribution of cards with the entire group:

  • Ask the team to share the rule it followed.
  • Ask the team to share the results and speculate what happened to its process.
  • Ask the team to share an example of where it sees the same type of pattern happening.

Team A: The cards will tend to be clustered around the target. The distribution is stable with minimum variation around the target. Even if you have a bad process, you’ll get an
even distribution. This is a stable process, and by far, the best choice.

Team B: The variation explodes and is unstable but symmetrical around the target, as we tamper with the process. The operator knows where the standard is, but adjusts based on the last piece produced – and where he or she thinks it should be. Like setting an oven to bake a cake, if we know from past experience that the oven was too hot, we’ll adjust the control to be a smidgen less than it was when we baked our cake before.

Team C: The distribution explodes in opposite directions, as we overcompensated for our errors. This is the way most processes are overadjusted from where the operation was during the last process run. Like a novice driver steering a car, the operator overadjusts (or management overreacts!).

Team D: The cards will tend to drift. The distribution is unstable and moves away from the target in one direction. This is the kind of process drift that can occur when we use the last piece produced as the standard for the next piece, instead of a universal product standard. Drifting also occurs when we let experienced employees “show the ropes” to new employees, without any training standard.

Have each team come up with its own examples of losses in its organization resulting from Rules B, C, and D. If possible, ask the team members to estimate the losses to the organization.

Close with a discussion of how organizations take a stable process and try to make it better. The result of our efforts will only make it worse – double the variance or cause the process to explode. What is required is a fundamental change in the system.

Super important! You will want to do a dry run of this activity. Of all the Team Activities in my book, Team Energizers, this is the most complex, so make sure you understand the four rules and see how it plays out before you do this with your team.

If time permits, do another “round,” allowing the teams to make process improvements. Have each team identify one improvement to make, test it, and then compare the results. For example, one process improvement might be to hold the card parallel to the floor before dropping it. The result using Rule A will be that almost every card will settle down on top of the target!


If you like this activity, check out my book, Team Energizers, for 49 other team activities.

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Inspired by W. Edwards Deming and Steve Holcomb
2001 American Society for Quality

Deming, W.E. (1986). Out of the Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hello Extraordinary Team Friends!

Today’s blog is from my good friend and colleague, Michael Kerr who specializes in creating “Outrageously Inspiring Workplace Cultures.”  I first read it on LinkedIn and thought, “This would be an awesome blog post!”  So here is this week’s blog, thanks to Michael for sharing it with us!

“I’ve always thought that the sitcom The Office should be mandatory viewing for senior leaders to remind themselves of how not to lead.

After all, as Groucho Marx once said, ‘We should learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have time to make them all ourselves.’

Speaking of The Office (I’m so glad you brought it up), I just finished reading, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s by Andy Greene. The book gave me the inspiration for this week’s message. It’s not earth-shattering, yet it’s ridiculously important. Are you ready to hear it?


One of the recurring themes in this book is how genuinely loved and respected Steve Carell was throughout his stint playing the less-than-ideal boss Michael Scott. Carell was a consummate professional in everything he did. He was courteous. Respectful. Kind. Generous.

He never said a bad word about anyone. He helped the crew unload from the van. He put others at ease. He was playful. He brought his sense of humor along for the ride. He didn’t want to be the only funny one – he wanted everyone to be funny. Colleague after colleague described him as a true class act and perhaps the nicest person they had ever worked with in their entire career.

Given his status and exhausting schedule he could have been a major-league jerk. But Carell chose (and let’s remember, it’s a choice we make every day) to be thoughtful and kind. And because he was so kind and so respected, he built up a huge supply of goodwill capital: His colleagues always supported him when he needed a big favor (such as taking a mid-season hiatus to star in a movie).

He made the choice to be kind every day to everyone he interacted with, and by doing so Steve Carell left behind a lasting, positive legacy.

So, what choice are you making every day at work?

What legacy do you hope to leave in your wake?

If someone penned a book about your workplace 10 years after you left your job, what would they write about you?”

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Teams with members from different nations and cultures have a unique way of communicating, building consensus, and taking action.  If you’re bringing together a multinational team, there are several measures you can take to ensure teamwork as they come to gather:

Do Your Research.  Know who will be participating and what they will expect.  If possible, ask for their opinions from the beginning.  Know their names and proper titles.

Provide “Read-Ahead” Packages.  These will include detailed information about the agenda and the team’s goals.  Some may not be accustomed to the direct “American-style” meeting (or English is not their primary language), so make sure you clue them in on the process the team will use.

Be Balanced.  Have different nationalities co-lead the team to ensure equal representation.  Handouts should be multi-lingual (or at the very minimum, send in the “read ahead” packages so they can run them through a translator).  Explain what the team’s products will be — recommendation, project plan, etc.  Use a storyboard to reinforce where the team is and where it needs to go.

Define Key Words.  Pay particular attention to phrases that may not translate well.  For example, “one conversation at a time” may mean to some members “Don’t talk to more than one person at a time.”  Clarify the language if the team members seem confused or do something unexpected.  Use simple diagrams to help clarify the message as much as possible.

Learn About Their Cultures.  Because a multinational team has many dimensions to consider, learn about the members’ cultures before you jump to conclusions.  Take the time to learn a few words in their language, some customs, the country’s geography, and even a typical meal.

Be Culturally Sensitive.  Every person on the team brings his or her own set of assumptions, values, and beliefs.  What works well in one country may not work well in another.  For a general example, the French prefer to take long lunches whereas Americans are used to quick, working lunches.  Americans openly question everything, whereas the Japanese will question in private.  One way is no better than the other; they are just different.  Don’t default ALWAYS to the American way of doing things!

Schedule Free Time.  Plan some sightseeing or a trip to an ethnic restaurant to help the team bond.  A series of low-key activities often is more useful for getting the group to coalesce than one “grand slam.”  Be sensitive to cultural norms regarding diet or inclusion of spouses and children.

Don’t Assume.  Finally, don’t assume that people have the same views about ‘teamwork.’  Early on in the team’s formation, discuss the key elements to building an extraordinary team.  Explore definitions e.g. What do you mean by the word “team?”  How do you expect this team to function?  What should be our ground rules for team effectiveness?

When you are open, curious, and respectful of other’s national stories and cultures, you’ll be able to build an extraordinary multinational team!

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Everyone talks about how important it is to establish a unique personal brand or “fair advantage” – one that helps you stand out from the “competition” so that you can get ahead at work or in the marketplace. It has taken me YEARS to understand what that really means and how to figure out what makes me and my brand unique.

And then Sylvie DiGiusto comes out with a hefty tome that literally walks you through a process to help you figure out your unique value proposition.  It’s called Discover Your Fair Advantage: Leverage Your Unique Selling Points and Human Potential for Work, Business, and Life.

Make no mistake. DiGiusto has created a workbook to help you distill your essence and communicate and demonstrate it in the world. It took me two months to get through the book – and I had already done some of the suggested activities. Even so, I discovered several nuances to my personal brand that I found to be invaluable insights.

  • Part 1 states the case for creating a personal brand
  • Part 2 is a series of activities to help you discover your fair advantage. Some activities are easier (more obvious to answer) than others – but you don’t want to cheat yourself and bypass any of the chapters. They ALL contribute to defining your unique selling proposition (USP) statement in the last chapter. That one chapter is worth the price of admission!
  • Part 3 is a frank discussion about how we can sabotage leveraging our fair advantage. The smallest of the chapters, but worthwhile to revisit from time to time, keeping yourself on track.

After going through the exercises in this book, I wish I had done this when first starting out in the business world. It’s ideally suited for high performers who want to climb the career ladder in their organization as well as business owners who want to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Ideally, this book should be required material for any leadership academy or emerging leader program!


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