June 29, 2018

Three Skills of Social Technologists

There are three key skills needed by social technologists. That is, people who are actually going to go out and build and operate social technology: Power, Leadership, and Social Technology.

We previously discussed how social technologists have to be powerful leaders, and how we will eventually need to be able to train social technologists with all the requisite skills to build social technology. Since then, we’ve refined how we think, and crystalized this trio of key skills:

  1. Power. The first skill of the social technologist is to be able to outmaneuver competitors for control of social space and institutions, build an empire, and exclude competitors’ influence from that empire. This is generally considered to be a distasteful business, but it’s the reality underpinning all social institutions; if one central power doesn’t have secure control, nothing is possible but fighting. This consists of gathering intel, knowing who has what loyalties, making moves to disrupt the enemy’s systems and protect your own, planning tactical maneuvers, crushing your enemies, solidifying your allies, and generally modelling and manipulating power. This is a basically military problem.

  2. Leadership. The second skill, given power, is to be able to put people where you need them, in the arrangement that you want them, and get them to do what you need them to. This is a well-appreciated activity, but of course depends on strong power hegemony. Leadership consists of persuading people to defer to your plans, giving orders and suggestions, subtly massaging people, helping people through tough points, upgrading people, and making and executing plans for getting the result you want.

  3. Social Technology. The third skill is knowing how to arrange people for the desired result. Being able to put your resources where you want them is no use if you don’t know what to do with them, or what to build. This largely consists, as far as we know, of knowing how social phenomena work, which phenomena are stable and what they do, knowing how to create any given phenomenon, knowing how to combine phenomena into more complex machinery, and of course having a clear idea of your goal and how social technology could help solve that problem. This is the most scientific part of the problem, for which we hope to create our science of social technology.

Each of these is useful for the others: how will you persuade people to follow if you don’t know what you are doing? How will you impose your will on social territory if you can’t build effective social systems?

If we compare to more familiar material technology: Power corresponds to capital: the money, material, and human resources. Leadership is manufacturing: ability to shape your materials into the desired shape efficiently. Social Technology is engineering: ability to understand and design what kind of shape you want to put your resources in to accomplish your goals.

We should seek to get better at all of these. We want students of the New Statecraft to be extremely good at getting power, extremely good at leading people, and extremely good at understanding and designing effective social systems.

One possible missing factor is the factor of cooperation: how should powerful social technologists compose themselves into even more powerful joint empires? This can technically be folded into the other skills, but should perhaps be named as its own first class skill. Pulling it out to first class may in turn change how we think of the others. We will leave that as an exercise for the future.

Edited and curated by Wolf Tivy

Comments? Email comments@newstatecraft.org