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FRAMERS by Kenneth Cukier


Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil

by Kenneth Cukier & Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & Francis de Vericourt

Pub Date: May 11th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-593-18259-8
Publisher: Dutton

An appealing pop-science guide to creativity.

Books on problem-solving, including this one, tend to be directed toward aspiring businesspeople, but Economist senior editor Cukier and business school professors Mayer-Schönberger and de Vericourt offer a text that should have wider appeal. Unlike animals and computers, humans do not make decisions according to fixed rules. We operate with a mental model of a situation, a frame, that becomes critical when solving problems. Among the authors’ numerous illustrative anecdotes is the story of Nokia. For decades, handsets steadily became smaller, cheaper, and more convenient. That was the model, and Nokia led in sales. When Apple introduced the “bulkier, pricier, and buggier” iPhone in 2008, many companies did not realize that Apple had reframed the model, and Nokia barely escaped bankruptcy Although an accepted tenet in psychology for a century, framing entered the mainstream only when human intelligence bumped up against the limitation of computers. Computers calculate, solve complex problems, and even learn, but they remain helpless without human input: “AI is brilliant at answering what is asked; framers pose questions never before voiced. Computers work only in a world that exists; humans live in ones they imagine through framing.” This incredibly efficient means to reaching a decision requires three key elements: “causal thinking,” which predicts in advance what an action will produce; “counterfactuals,” which serve as “a form of dreaming—but wisely channeled, deliberately focused”; and “constraints,” which place limits on our imagination, allowing us to focus on actions that matter. The authors conclude with a long plea for pluralism, “friction,” and diversity in business, our personal lives, and society as a whole. “Uniformity is the end of successful framing,” they write. While tribalism and groupthink remain the default modes for many humans, the authors put forth solid theories supported by scientific researchers, educators, expert consultants, philosophers, and other thinkers.

Less a guide to success in relationships, creativity, or even business than an astute analysis of problem-solving.