Only 23 percent of Americans now trust government to do the right thing. Of all the challenges facing our nation, the most important simply may be closing this results gap, which is this growing gulf between political promises and actual achievements. So our ability to execute on these challenges is our biggest challenge, essentially. We need to have a policy-design process where we produce public policy that works in the real world, as opposed to just getting through the legislature. We need to understand that passing a bill in itself does not define success; the results are often years down the road.
The book says that often it's less a people problem and more a process problem. Should the media lay off politicians, then?
Well, the media have a very important watchdog role to play, so I would never say that. But I think the current attention—which is always on the people and the personalities over the process—is not always helpful. It's easy to appreciate the more tangible, more easy-to-understand nature of these characters. We see the villains. And they do exist, but they distract us from the underlying systemic reasons for our shortcomings. It would be nice every once in a while to highlight those and talk about what are the lessons learned from the successes, as opposed to always focusing on some of the failures or some of the personality issues.
In the book you make a comparison between public officials and Indiana Jones.
Indiana Jones—he traveled the globe in search of this golden idol, and he always had his map with him. [He] knew that the golden idol would be guarded by booby traps and snares, and I think his greatest attribute was the ability to expect the unexpected. He avoided overconfidence by doing so. If it ever looked like he could walk up and grab the idol, he paused and wondered where the poison darts might be coming from. The elusive treasure of public-sector results is very difficult to get to, and being aware of having a map to get there, which we try to provide in the book, and also being aware of all the traps along the way, the poison darts that are going to come at you, is the key to success, because then you can navigate that terrain.