February 18, 2017

We shall miss Hans Rosling, but let’s learn from his genius

By Paul Laughlin

Hans RoslingGiven our focus as a blog, I didn’t want to let another week go by without acknowledging the passing of Hans Rosling.

When I first heard the news, via BBC’s More of Less podcast, I was so sad to think that we’ve lost such a great communicator of statistics. Listening to this memorial podcast, which is well worth a listen, my mind went back to memories of TED talks by Hans and the passion with which he educated on public health.

Beyond the legacy that Hans has left in the field of public health, however, he has also left a legacy for Customer Insight Leaders.

If you have not previously seen Hans present data visualisations, or bring his analysis to life with props as diverse as toilet rolls or sword swallowing, you really must. Do yourself a favour and check out some of his best TED talks.

The magic of Hans Rosling presenting statistics

So, before sharing a couple of obituaries that do justice to a life well lived. Let me start this blog post by sharing a couple of Hans’ TED talks.

Hopefully these will give you a good idea of his genius & inspire you & your team to be both more creative and more passionate when presenting your analysis. It could well be argued that Hans brought the use of animated data visualisations into the mainstream, he certainly did in his field of public health data.

Here are two of his best:


It is hard not to weep at the loss of such a brilliant talent & man passionate about overcoming ignorance about topics that really matter.

But, we can be thankful that his commitment to education and digital media, which mean we continue to have so many examples to watch and learn from.

Hans Rosling, a life well lived

Hans was much more than just being a relevant example, for customer insight leaders, and to inspire analysts seeking to use data visualisation. It has been heart warming to learn more about his back story and the difference he made to so many public health challenges through his courage & commitment to tackling ignorance with data.

Here is that More or Less podcast, in which Tim Harford and his team do a great job of reflecting on all Hans achieved & his charming personality:

BBC World Service – More or Less, Hans Rosling – the Extraordinary Life of a Statistical Guru

The world lost a legend this week – Hans Rosling. A master communicator with passion for global development. Tim Harford looks at his life. A huge hole was left in the world this week with the death of the Swedish statistician Han Rosling.

For those with more time to read, this obituary in the Guardian does justice to the richness of Hans’ life experience and the legacy he leaves:

Hans Rosling, statistician and development champion, dies aged 68

It was his first Ted talk that thrust renowned Swedish academic Hans Rosling into the international spotlight in 2006, billed as the man in whose hands data sings. Since then, the statistician more likely to illustrate an idea with a few multi-coloured lego bricks than a PowerPoint has been described as everything from a data guru to a Jedi master of data visualisation.

How can we learn from Hans Rosling?

My initial response to the question is two-fold. First, to share his passionate commitment to tackling misconceptions & prejudice through showing people the real data. Second, by keeping people engaged when you show them the data by ‘making it sing (through your use of creative data visualisation & enthusiasm for the subject). Let’s continue his commitment to making statistics & analysis fun.

But, I would be remiss if I ended this post without also mentioning the foundation that Hans founded to continue his vital public health education work. GapMinder:


Imagine the world as a street. All houses are lined up by income, the poor living to the left and the rich to the right. Everybody else somewhere in between. Where would you live? Would your life look different than your neighbours’ from other parts of the world, who share the same income level?

There are so many engaging & surprising videos, presentations & data visualisations are available at the GapMinder site. “Dollar Street” it well worth walking down & you can even download the software Hans uses for his animated data visualisations. Plus, in the same spirit of openness & generosity, all the data used in Hans’ presentations is available for download.

Engaging videos, surprising data visualisations & publicly available data. Plus, a cause that continues to change minds & public policies. A fitting tribute to a man who actually deserves the title ‘legend‘.

Farewell, Hans & thanks for all you have taught us, through your skills & your character.