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Two Challenges to Improving Social Systems We Can Help You Overcome

We all want better social systems: We want social networks rich in meaningful relationships, organizations which allow for great individual agency, political institutions that produce great collective decisions, and so on.

But to get there, we must face two big challenges: one is about design criteria, the other is about imagination.

A Problem with Criteria

When designing for an individual, it might be enough to focus on their goals (Jobs to Be Done), feelings (“calm” design, “delightful” interactions, and most UX design), or life situation (Personas).

This isn’t good enough for social systems. To design a good social environment, you need to understand how…

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A year of soul searching

For me, 2020 has been about rethinking what the world needs from me. My previous work on metrics and design techniques was helpful, but didn’t drive the changes I’d hoped. Recognizing this involved some personal growth.

My new mission

It looks like my next step can build on what I’ve done before. My new mission is to make social design a proper field. And to build structures that surface the best social designers, wherever they are, whatever their background, so they can solve big problems in social media and institution design.

Practically, this means: (1) something like a “Michelin star” or “Nobel prize”…

Alternative Institutions are Rising

New social systems, collective intelligences, and coordination mechanisms are forming to address COVID-19. This post can be read as a guide to making them even better, or as an evolving index of the best things going on.

The WHO, the CDC, the media, the economy — many traditional institutions are performing poorly. But while these institutions fail, new social systems like are kicking ass. The virus is bringing new social systems to the fore. Innovations are popping up across the entire social stack (see fig 1). …

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Its impact on my life and others’. Next steps.

Part of why I work on big, world-changing topics is that for much of my life I’ve been a narcissist: a person who has to believe they’re doing big, important things. For me, as I guess for most narcissists, this came from deep insecurities and fears.

  • In a way, I feel lucky to have been a narcissist. It led me to obsess over some of the biggest problems in the world. (And even make some progress!)
  • But I also feel incredibly unlucky. It poisoned relationships with my family and many others, and it made me obsessive, cold-hearted, and unsafe, rather…

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☝️ This essay is also available on the Human Systems notion.

According to Daniel Schmachtenberger, we are at the end of one kind of civilization and must transition to another. If we don’t transition — if we stick with our current civilizational operating system — then we won’t survive an interlocking set of global crises. In Daniel’s terminology, our current civilization (“game A”) will “self-terminate”. The new civilizational setup (“game B”) is yet to be invented. …

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☝️ This essay is also available on the Human Systems notion, and is part of the course materials for HS101 Deluxe.

More and more people are talking about values these days, and that’s a good thing. A reorientation towards values is happening in many fields: economics, design, organizational theory, political theory, econometrics, product metrics, psychotherapy, international development, community, cryptocurrencies, etc.

But something is holding back all of this progress. Mostly there is a vague idea about what values are — the values of a person seem much less concrete than, say, their goals, plans, or preferences. To rebuild economics or…

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☝️ This essay is also available on the Human Systems notion, and is part of the course materials for HS101 Deluxe.

My job is to help people design better social environments and systems, both online and offline. This means distilling academic work from many fields into an intuitive sense — something that works automatically as teams shape their apps, policies, and social ideas — guiding them away from common errors.

I’ll try to do that in this essay by connecting ideas from many fields, including behavioral psychology, the sociology of norms, game theory, and the philosophy of values. …

Steps towards radical redesign

Public debate seems like an important part of changing big systems. When modern nations formed, there was lots of public discussion and debates. In the US, for example, there were arguments in the newspapers about how the US government should work, later collected as the federalist and anti-federalist papers.

It’s time for new discussions like this — not just about democratic systems, but about social networks, property, and many other things. But it’s harder to have such discussions these days. One reason is that a certain kind of expertise is required both among those writing and among their readers. …

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