Eric Knight (BA)

Eric Knight (BA)

Alumnus and Rhodes Scholar Eric Knight (BA 2006 Government and International Relations LLB 2007) launched his new book Reframe: How to Solve the World's Trickiest Problems on February 6. In his critically acclaimed book, Knight draws on his knowledge and experience as both a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences alumnus and an alumnus of Oxford University to deliver a fresh approach to contemporary political and economic issues.

Despite his background in economics, Knight's book deals with a wide-range of historical and contemporary problems from tulip mania to terrorism. Fellow alumnus and Rhodes Scholar Malcolm Turnbull launched the book, which Booksellers and Publishers has placed in its top five non-fiction books for 2012.

Eric says his time at the University of Sydney helped ground his knowledge in social sciences and law, before he pursued economics at Oxford.

"I had a great time understanding the emerging energy markets in Europe," he says, "and my supervisor turned out to be an Australian who grew up in country Victoria!"

Since completing his university studies, Knight has found himself in high demand. He has been an economics consultant to the OECD, the United Nations and the World Bank. His opinions have been sought and published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Drum, The Spectator and The Monthly. Currently, Eric is working as an economics consultant advising an Australian government body on some major reforms.

Below Eric shares with us happy memories of his time studying at The University of Sydney, and what drives him to continue to deliver a fresh approach to contemporary political and economic issues.

What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?
Walking back from The Stand late on a Wednesday night, lunch with friends at Manning, testing ideas, broadcasting on campus radio, student politics. A friend of mine from the University of Western Sydney once caught the train into town just to walk around Manning at lunchtime and see if anyone was around. Admittedly he didn't have a mobile phone and was a bit eccentric. But campus life at Sydney University is a really special thing. They are happy memories but I've always been sceptical of the idea that your student days should be the best days of your life.

Who was your favourite Professor whilst you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?
I didn't have a favourite – they were all fantastic. Having said that, I always felt I learnt more in the conversations after the lecture than I did in the lectures themselves.

What is your proudest achievement?
Seeing Reframe on the bestsellers shelf at Sydney airport next to Michael Lewis' Boomerang and Tina Fey's Bossypants this year. Writing this book was a real journey – both literally and figuratively. (Reframe is a book where adventure travel meets politics.) There are so many steps between conceiving the idea and executing it that it's best not to know what's involved when you start out. I've really enjoyed the entrepreneurial side of writing a book. To get it right you have to know your reader really well, understand how they think, why they buy the book, and what you can offer them. It's like running a small business and it's something I really enjoy.

Who inspires you?
My girlfriend is a doctor and my mother is a social worker. People who get up in the morning and save lives everyday make my problems very small.

Tell us more about yourself and how you came to recently write and publish your first book, “Reframe”
Reframe is not the answers to the world's trickiest problems. It's the process we need to take to get there. I flip the way we see some of our most intractable problems – terrorism, immigration, climate change, financial crises – and argue that the best answers are often found in processes which lie beneath the surface.
The ideas in the book came together for me sitting across from Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, in mid 2010. Kumi is an extraordinary individual. He grew up on the rough side of Durban, fought apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela … and yet as I spoke to him I realised that I disagreed with his way of seeing the world. It was a humbling experience but in explaining why I saw things differently to him I uncovered a deeper pattern in the way we think through difficult problems.

What has been the most memorable success you have had?
Swimming across the English Channel in mid 2010 with some mates from Oxford. It was an extraordinary journey and the real endurance test was mental rather than physical. It's the busiest shipping channel in the world and a thick fog set in about 30 minutes after leaving Dover. You're not allowed to wear a wetsuit or grease, so you can imagine how cold it is (it was about 13 degrees). The water was also fairly choppy that day. We made it by nightfall and came back to beer, a bucket of KFC, and a good night's sleep!

What is the mantra you live by?
I want to help people live the life they have reason to value.

What are your plans for the future?
I'm glad to be back in Sydney after my time in Oxford. I plan to keep writing and continue advising senior leaders in business and government on the challenges that lie ahead. The Australian economy is going through a phenomenal period of change at the moment. We have the capacity to produce the world's next Mark Zuckerberg but to do that we have to nurture a generation of entrepreneurs. I'm keen to support that and reverse the myth that we're just a lucky country.

What drives you?
There is a wonderful moment in the British TV series Downton Abbey when Earl Grantham turns to his eldest daughter and talks about the inheritance of the Downton estate. I am not the owner of Downton Abbey, he tells her. I am merely its custodian until someone else can take it in my place. I am close to Grantham's sentiment. I want to contribute to the place I came from and leave it in better shape to how I inherited it.

What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?
Stay curious and ask questions. We all have ideas which pop into our heads. Often we think they are too stupid to mention but my experience is that it's often those ideas which lead to real insight.