The world population in Ikea boxes

Which researcher is a must-see? Without a doubt, Hans Rosling. In an interview, this Swedish statistician talks about presenting data that people can both enjoy and understand. Really?

Enjoying and understanding

Not my first guess of words to describe a research presentation. Yet, Professor Rosling will have you feasting on hard statistics.

His presentation on the growth of the world population has me mesmerized. The story begins in 1960 with 3 billion people and ends in 2050 with 9 billion. Take a look:

Why does Rosling give presentations? Because our ideas are inconsistent with the facts. Our mindset needs an urgent fix, Rosling argues.

No longer lonely at the top

Rosling knows that even the best slides are not enough to captivate your audience. In come the Ikea boxes. Each box represents 1 billion people. In 1960 we start with 1 blue box, the industrialized world, and 2 green ones for the developing countries. Altogether, 3 billion people.

As time goes by, more boxes appear. Prosperity is visualized by adding a pair of flip-flops and a toy bike, car and airplane next to the boxes. The poorest group of people moves around on foot. The richest take the airplane.

In 2050 the world will have completely transformed from the 1960 model. The 3 boxes will have made room for 9. And most importantly: the West is no longer the absolute ruler. Rosling sees it as the West’s obligation to be the originator of the modern world. ‘Do it well and get used to it.

Rosling’s bag of tricks

The final image Rosling presents to us is one of 9 Ikea boxes in stacks of 3. The West on the right in blue, with 2 green boxes on top. We see a small bike, a car and an airplane.

Rosling is a medical doctor. He knows that the conscious mind easily forgets. The subconscious mind, however, has a much better way of remembering. Vivid images, in particular.

What makes Rosling so remarkable is the way he seamlessly summarizes the entire content of his story in that one image that will forever stick in our minds.