Monday, February 6, 2012

Q&A with Eric Knight

We interview Eric Knight, author of Reframe: How to solve the world's trickiest problems.

Can you tell us a little about your book?

Reframe is a book about why we struggle with our trickiest political problems and what we can do to solve them. I take my readers through stories from the last decade: the dot com bubble, the war on terror, immigration, climate change, and beyond. In each case, we make the same mistake: we fixate on what's visually compelling and we miss the bigger picture.
In the end, Reframe makes a surprisingly optimistic case for how we can correct political myopia. We are not necessarily irrational. We just focus on the wrong things. Correction is possible.
What does the title Reframe mean?

Reframing is a way of recasting political issues. Politics gets stuck when problems are characterized in the wrong way. Terrorism is more than a battle to kill terrorists. Climate change is more than a choice between the environment and the economy. Analyze a problem by the wrong unit of analysis and the solutions are impossibly remote. ‘Reframe’ the debate – redefine the issue with the correct terms of reference – and the answers become accessible.
What are some of the major world problems you aim to solve in your book?

I take on the issues which have caused the biggest political headaches over the last decade. I start with the collapse of Wall Street's most prestigious hedge fund in the late 90s – Long Term Capital Management – and what it says about financial crises. (We all have the Wall Street banker gene.) I apply the same conclusion to explain why we got stuck in Iraq for so long. I then turn to the immigration issue, and account for the rise of the American Tea Party. (I conclude the Tea Party isn't necessarily racist. It's driven by a competition for resources.) I move through a suite of other issues – climate politics, Cameron's Big Society, the role of government, and more.
You have described Reframe as ‘politics meets psychology’ – can you expand on this? 
I have an instinctive faith in people's natural intelligence to solve problems. That raises an obvious question: why do we sometimes make such terrible mistakes? That's not just a political problem. It covers everything from when we order food in a restaurant to when we decide to take on the wrong job. To my mind, the mistakes we make often come down to how we view a problem. They are problems of framing rather than intelligence or rationality.
Where did your idea for Reframe come from?
The book really came together for me whilst sitting on the opposite side of a train carriage to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International. I have immense respect for Kumi, but as I sat listening to him I realised I saw the world completely differently to him. Reframe was my way of articulating that other way of seeing the world.
How is Reframe different from other books?

It’s different because, in the end, it's an optimistic account of human nature. It's also unique because it's not just about 'ways of thinking'. It's not like The Tipping Point or Nudge which gives readers anecdotes about hockey or IQ contestants but leaves them wondering about the real world. I offer real solutions to real world political problems. The solutions are more than Eric Knight's view of the world. I walk readers through the cognitive psychology of politics, and the process we must take to get to the right answers.
What authors and books have influenced your work?

I really like Malcolm Gladwell as a writer, and I like the style of the New Yorker. Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, and Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and Adapt, have both taught me to see the sunny side of human nature. I love what Freakonomics does for economics. I want to do that for politics – tell the story of why we miss the answers to our biggest political problems. To get there, I am influenced by political thinkers old and new – David Hume and Isaiah Berlin from old world Europe; Daniel Khaneman and David Kilcullen– from new-world military thinking and psychology. Isaiah Berlin wrote a brilliant essay in 1953 called The Hedgehog and The Fox. The world is split between two types of people: hedgehogs know one big thing and foxes know many little things. This is a book about why foxes are better.  
Reframe is available now from all good bookstores. Visit Black Inc.'s website for more information. 

1 comment:

  1. It's about clear-thinking. They used to teach that in schools.
    (Add a bit of bravery too - in this creepily conformist world.)