Knowledge is power… usually
It’s very difficult to stay open-minded, especially as you get older. The more ‘knowledge’ you collect, the more you tend to think you’re right. So, below I’m going to ask you three multiple choice questions. The likelihood is, you’ll be pretty confident in your answers, but my guess is that you’re probably not going to score as well as you think. Play along as you read, and you’ll see the answers later on.
1: What’s happened to the total amount of raw materials used across the world since 2000?
1. Stayed the same
2. Increased by 30%
3. Increased by 70%
2: What’s happened to the global suicide rate in the last 20 years?
1. Fallen by 25%
2. Stayed the same
3. Increased by 25%.
3: How many companies in the world have a woman as CEO or top manager?
Around 90% of the population answer these questions incorrectly. What’s interesting about this is both understanding why, and then thinking about what the knock-on implications of these misconceptions might be.
Let’s start with female CEOs. It’s not a surprise to anyone that the world of business is still embarrassingly male dominated. But because of this, people tend to underestimate the number of women who actually make it to the top. The correct answer is 18% (I guessed 10%).
This misconception must be corrected, however, or it will slow down the speed of change. Young girls might not aim high enough because they get an outdated view of the world from their parents and teachers, who may underestimate their actual chances of becoming business leaders. And young boys might continue to assume that men are better leaders.
I guessed suicide rates had increased by 25%. In reality, they’ve actually fallen by 25%. The reason I (and 94% of the population) answer this question incorrectly is because more and more people are talking openly about mental health.
While this is a great step towards removing stigma and increasing awareness about the problem, it makes us more aware of it. And when we start to talk more openly about something (especially something that used to be a taboo), we often incorrectly assume that the problem itself is increasing. Bizarrely, the very fact that we talk about it more openly is probably one of the reasons it’s decreasing.
Lastly, our use of raw materials. It’s actually risen by 70% over the last 20 years (the only question I got right). Raw material usage in wealthy countries has remained stable over the past 20 years, around 25 tons per person, which is roughly 13 times more than in low-income countries. The reason the global number has increased is that billions of people in developing countries have become relatively better off and when this happens their material footprint increases.
The problem here is that our general lifestyle of overconsumption has to change. Billions more people are going to become wealthier over the next 20 years and if the typical rate of consumption doesn’t decrease, then natural resources will be depleted, and natural habitats will be destroyed.
If you find this kind of stuff interesting, take a look at Gapminder, which is a Swedish charity, identifies systematic misconceptions about important global trends and then uses data to help people understand what’s really going on.