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The Man Who Made Me Believe ‘Data Can Sing With A Feel’: A Tribute to Hans Rosling

There is entertainment. And there is data. Candidly, it never crossed my mind that the two can be on the same spectrum. Let alone within the same human. 

In fact, my earlier perceptions were aligned with many a parent’s silent wish. 

When you walk with your child, while dropping her at school, a thought flashes – “hope you have an easier time grasping math than I ever did.” Unlike listening and grasping stories, there is something about math – it is a hit or a miss.

That perception changed quite dramatically when I watched Swedish Professor, Hans Rosling. He made me believe the chasm between data and emotion is all in the mind. He never told me that, he did more than show me that. He entertained me with that.

I can pour encomiums on how he disrobes the unspoken dogmas. Or I can let you draw your own conclusions from the first video [of his,] I saw.

With time, his presentations became sleeker. [A perpetual learner, he partnered with his son and daughter-in-law that amplified his digital animations, among other things]. 

The common thread from his first to last presentation [, apart from data] – he made me feel, he made me think and he made me relate. With every one of his presentations, he brought my long lost memories flooding back – almost, always. Here is one.

I had a great equation with my maternal grandma who lived in a small village in independent India.  I asked her all kinds of questions.  She always had interesting answers. I remember this one-“What do you believe will propel India forward as a nation?” She responded without batting an eyelid -“the education of the girl child.” 

Being young and curious, I followed up with a why. She said it in her voice rich like honey, “when a woman takes care of her destiny, a nation takes care of herself.” Knowing my grand mom – destiny included family planning. An advocacy she believed in. 

You see, her thoughts were contrary to prevailing wisdom then. When youngsters bowed in front of the elders, the predominant blessing (in tamil, it is aashirvaadam) was, “make a name, have numerous children and live a wonderful life.”

My 4th grade graduate grand mom did connect the dots of family size and nation building instinctively. She tweaked the middle blessing. And Hans Rosling made me relive her belief. 

This time, through his global numbers – in a five dimensional visualization, no less!

More than anything, I will remember how he rushed center stage in the middle of his presentation and co-mingled with the moving data. His story, his passion and his message – all became one.

In the process, he taught me something about Data and Einstein. 

Until I “met” him online, I only knew about three levels of data – raw data (big or small), data analysis and data insights. The last one, data insights, I usually equate to Occam’s razor or portion of a quote attributed to Einstein – “everything should be made as simple as possible.” 

The Man Who Made Me Believe ‘Data Can Sing With A Feel’: A Tribute to Hans Rosling

Watching Hans Rosling at work, I learned a fourth level- the philosophy behind last part of an Einsten quote “ everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I found the elaboration in data storytelling – passionate, relatable and above all magnificently memorable.

And Rosling’s videos are treasure troves for us and generations to come. Learning by showing without realizing that you are absorbing is priceless – any age, any time and anyone.

After all, how often do the words pop star, celebrity and theatrical flair rivet in the same sentence as data and statistics.

Personal Impact: For You and Me

When my young daughters wave good-bye, turnaround and walk to their class with a spring in their gait, I wonder. When is a good moment to share Hans Rosling’s videos?

I do want them to be entertained – and be exposed to the belief that data and stories can intersect. And the bridge is the passionate embrace of both- data and stories within one soul.

Hope you binge watch his videos   too – the learning a-has are many. Hans, son of a proud, blue-collar, coffee roaster keeps it real. And the aroma is divine. 

In tribute to his legacy,