People within STEM should value rhetoric or history 10 times more than they do currently. People that study and work in STEM fields have stereotypes that they are not high-level, conceptual thinkers. They do not understand people, markets, and the problems being solved. There is lots of innovation for the sake of innovation – rather than being solutions for problems, and there are gaps in knowledge versus intelligence. All of these stereotypes would go away, and our engineers would be more prepared for the world, if they had a better understanding of rhetoric and history.
There is no shortage of intelligence in STEM. The most innovative entrepreneurs and the brightest workers come out of science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. They are the most capable people that can develop an understanding of rhetoric and history if they applied themselves.
STEM individuals should study rhetoric and history for three main reasons: to understand technology cycles, to understand people, and to innovate for society.
Understand technology cycles
Studying history will give the student an understanding of the cycles that individuals and entire societies go through. These are naturally occurring cycles of growth and decline, rise and fall. History gives the keys to understanding how these cycles come about, how to handle yourself in the middle of them, and how to get out of a period of perceived doom.
Nearly all human problems have occurred before. The technology may be new, and it probably is, but the problem humans face is probably not new (except my foil-hat AI problems). How people get from one place to another, how we communicate with each other, how we find love – these are all problems that will not go away, these have been solved in a variety of ways, and will continue to exist in the future. Engineers should understand how to prepare for change as well as the effects of their proposed changes.
Changing how we do things not only saves the end user time and money to do those things, but there may be secondary consequences. Facebook changed the way we communicate with each other and made it easier to stay in touch with others. However, people are finding it harder to maintain strong relationships and to build communication skills now that it is easier to be social. Ease is attractive, but it may not be best long-term.
Cycles of ease and hardship have occurred before. Understanding these cycles will help the engineer profit, keep society from falling apart, and maybe find love.
Engineers will benefit from this knowledge because they can apply new technology to problems that continue to occur. Solutions can be developed to mitigate or solve problems that are almost certain to happen again.
Engineers are the introverts on campus – the nerds, the “non-people persons”. It doesn’t have to be this way. Rhetoric and history both will teach an individual the importance of developing speech and social grace. From the inventors that never received their credit because someone more charismatic beat them to it, to the psychology that goes into connecting with people, rhetoric – the art of language and communicating, is as valuable for engineers as for the marketing majors.
Marketing departments and communication teams are the “social people” in an organization. What they really are is an added layer of complexity and inefficiency. When the engineer understands the people he is serving – the customers, his boss, and team members, the role of the manager and marketer that works alongside the engineer is diminished, and the builder moves one step closer to interacting with the actual customer.
When the engineer can connect with an audience, he can eliminate the need for the manager and marketer. In this world, where additional layers of management and marketing departments are common, the engineer would be much more profitable in his own employment, or by convincing his organization to eliminate those positions for his profit.
Innovate for society
The current world is technology-driven. There are constantly new technologies and competition for market-share and funding are fierce. To guarantee your product will secure its funding and market, understanding of both history and rhetoric will help.
Rhetoric will help for the reason listed above. The engineer can add the value of the marketing department and sales team if he can connect with his audience and relate to them.
Understanding history helps with this too. Most problems have been seen and addressed before. By understanding the cycles that humans go through, that technology goes through, and that societies go through, an engineer can orient their technology to fill a gap that will be valuable long-term.
The goals of new technologies are to make society – whether all of society or your family or your company, better. Profits come when society is willing to pay for your product because it adds value.
An example of technology for technology’s sake is a change in a user interface that doesn’t make the experience better, but maybe looks shinier. Lightshows at a rave look cool but don’t do society a lot of good (at best). When cab companies create an app that allowed you to book a cab, that may be helpful if it has your position built-in, but it still requires hiring a cab and waiting for one to come from the airport.
Uber is innovative. It took the cab application and turned the ordinary commuter into an employee. It gave users trust in the drivers and gave the drivers accountability. It completely innovated both the efficiency of getting a ride, the quality of the rides, and the economics of driving and receiving a ride.
Transportation is a continually disrupted industry. Cab companies were as unprepared for Uber as the train companies were unprepared for the automobile. This will continue to happen, and technology giants, including Uber, are correctly spending money to prepare for the next disruptive transportation technologies – self-driving cars, drones, and underground travel.
People within STEM should value rhetoric or history 10x more than they do currently. Dedicating time to read non-technical papers will serve their careers, companies, and all of society. By understanding societal and human cycles, the people their product touches, and the problems they are solving, engineers will be much better positioned to add lasting value and make more money.