Force Multipliers

Ever since I was in the Army and learned about force multipliers, it’s been a term with magical meaning to me.  When I arrived at my Special Forces Group to begin my assignment as an intel dude supporting the ODAs, we’d be getting an even more precise force multiplier speech than the one we got in basic training.

Someone with solid training, the aggressive spirit to take the initiative, and cool demeanor can lead others during an event which would cause most people to lock up in fear and uncertainty.  The training is designed to give some muscle memory and reinforced learning through mistakes, but more importantly, training to react to scenarios helps people keep a focused mind and communicate to those around them who may be distracted.

It’s the person who runs into a conflict, not away from it, and begins verbally commanding people to do very specific tasks, since simpler commands are easier for people to comprehend when they’re distressed.  Thus one person begins utilizing other people to perform one task, shortening reaction time and coordinating multiple efforts.  That leader is a force multiplier because the net benefit derived from the group is only achieved, in a short timespan, through quick decision-making.

In the Special Forces context, the Special Forces teams are supposed to, as part of their mission, train indigenous forces for specialized tasks.  SF soldiers can take a group of ragtags and train them enough so that they can run their own missions effectively, and they can be mobilized quickly.  The SF soldier makes something out of very little.  He is a force multiplier.

Unleashing the Gays

Our country needs force multipliers.  The government and social services need to be seen as force multipliers.  Regardless of how churches and social structures adjust to the inevitability of acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage, the plain and simple truth for the civic mind is that gay marriage is a force multiplier.  Having more potential loving parents to raise children will raise social capital, and perhaps enrich the overall supply of social capital since it will offer social DNA by way of a creative, active gay community.  Any people we can find who pursue love and happiness and justice will make great parents and role models, and we can use all the help we can get right now.  Gay marriage is a force multiplier.

Health Care

Government providing a basic standard for health care is a force multiplier.  I do believe in a mixed system, where everyone has a right to basic care, but can pay more for a specialist if the money is available.  Competition between not just different for-profits but also between different models (not-for-profit, govt, for-profit) means a better mix of interests.  As an employer I do not want to worry about providing health care, and as an employee I want to know I can shift jobs or careers without having to worry about losing health care coverage.  Also, a sensible government outlook towards preventative care provides a unified message for improving the general health of all Americans.  Healthier Americans means more productive Americans.  A force multiplier.  It’s a high cost, yes, but the net benefit to social capital, generational momentum, and economic productivity must be far larger.

Public Goods As Force Multipliers

The “public good” is often a force multiplier.  Twitter I considered a public good for a while.  Its search tool was phenomenal.  It gave access to tons of data.  The API is still the best example of how to build a public good that an app and developer ecosystem can thrive off of.  Now Twitter has lost some of its key developers and is trying to be more of an advertising, consolidating monolith, and it’s begun to lose some of its utility.  The search box is far less useful than it used to be, apps are getting shut down in favor of Twitter’s own limited functionalities, and the public good is wilting.

Parks, mixed-use urban design, libraries, interstate road systems, public education, these are all public goods, thought to be provided by the government.  Government funding for basic research is a public good.  Such public goods allow for innovation and creativity and perhaps most of all, experimentation and social networking.

These days, public goods are hated as wasteful and inefficient.  Anything new and innovative that manages to creep up between the cracks on the internet or in New York City or somewhere else gets smacked down with lawsuits.  We are not allowed to do anything anymore.  Not only is it not creative, but it is a chilling effect.  Why even bother if you know you’ll get sued?  This kills the pipelines and ecosystems that are needed to raise force multipliers.

Naomi Klein made a good point in her book “No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs” about how the public space is gone.  I remember when my buddy and I went to a mall (which was the social spot of choice for kids my age, since it had an arcade and a pet shop and a computer game store) to videotape something.  Within minutes of filming, a guard came out and told us we weren’t allowed.  This public space, though owned by a private company, was off-limits for public space uses.  Now just extrapolate this to business properties all around your city, and the reduction of park space along with fewer trees and places to sit and all the things humans like around them when they gather.  This kills public goods and spaces, thus killing innovation and curiosity, thus killing the force multipliers and the people who show the force multipliers to the world.


Steven Johnson refers to the “adjacent possible” in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation”:

“…innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts—mechanical or conceptual—and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations—by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges—will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration. The infinite variety of life that so impressed Darwin, standing in the calm waters of the Keeling Islands, exists because the coral reef is supremely gifted at recycling and reinventing the spare parts of its ecosystem.”

I envision it as an expanding circle of knowledge, with innovators pushing the border of the circle out further so that it may touch more things outside the space.


“The question is how to push your brain toward those more creative networks. The answer, as it happens, is delightfully fractal: to make your mind more innovative, you have to place it inside environments that share that same network signature: networks of ideas or people that mimic the neural networks of a mind exploring the boundaries of the adjacent possible. Certain environments enhance the brain’s natural capacity to make new links of association. But these patterns of connection are much older than the human brain, older than neurons even. They take us back, once again, to the origin of life itself.”

In Richard Florida’s “The Rise Of The Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community And Everyday Life”, he talks about how George Lucas’ works pushed the limits of special effects, having the add-on effect of creating a group of workers who experimented with new techniques and became experts in their field at them.  Then those people went on to create companies of their own, or create new movies and works, thus making new art and products that created jobs and made a ton of money.  The adjacent possible was expanded through a small group of people (and a notable leader) who created a whole new industry.  They were force multipliers.

When I think about NASA losing much of its personnel and funding, I think about the loss of force multipliers.  The cutting back of funding of basic research in government because people consider certain individual projects as wastes of money?  Loss of force multipliers.  Not everything works or spawns something big, but companies are not always going to reliably fund basic research, particularly for public or national goods, on their own.  Not only that, but whatever they do find, they silo away within their own companies’ vaults.  It does not become public knowledge.

The current ideological debate that is occurring before we can transition to the next stage of human development, between government and business, is a total farce.  It is not whether we have to choose.  We need a blend of the public good, the government’s nationalist interest, and the economic powerhouse of business.  They need to balance each other to varying degrees based upon a culture’s values and competitive pressures within a geostrategic reality.  China’s system will not look like America’s system, which won’t look like the European Union’s system.  What we should focus on, moving forward, is restoring a balance, particularly with the motivation through policy to see government as a provider of public goods and force multipliers, which allow the citizenry and businesses to do what they do best: build families and liveable communities (for citizens) and build goods and services (for businesses).

Most of all we need smart leaders.  Leaders who love business and the art and drive of making money, but who also are seen as able to promote the public good (e.g. making America a better place for all) above any one lobbyist’s interest (preferably with some civic or military service time), and who also know basic leadership skills, in terms of motivating others and being force multipliers themselves.  The kind of leader who sees a new business idea that could work, but weighs it against the detriment it may cause to the livability, civility, and fairness on the street amongst the people.  Could we build this into requirements for running for office?  Could we create schools that specifically encourage this tripartite blend of leader?