The word meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene. A meme is a concept, usually embedded in culture, and easily propagated from person to person. It might not be within the awareness of the members of the culture, but because they share it, they can act and interact in patterns everyone knows, which improves social efficiency. That's usually helpful, but if the goals thereby achieved are counter-productive, memes serve to enable the society to undermine itself — efficiently.
Workplace memes are artifacts of workplace culture. For instance, associated with meetings is a meme that governs their timing and duration. Most are scheduled to take one hour, or an integer number of hours, beginning at the top of an hour. This meme has the effect of setting the durations of meetings to whole hours, even if we need only 48 minutes. Note to meeting chairs: if you need only 48 minutes, start the meeting at 12 minutes past the hour. People will hug you.
Here are four other workplace memes, emphasizing the counter-productive.
- Candy dishes and doughnut meetings
- Sugary treats areIf you need only 48 minutes for
a meeting, start it at 12 minutes
past the hour. People will hug you. fun. Nearly everyone enjoys them. But spiking blood sugar leads inevitably to the sugar crash, sleepy afternoons, and elevated risk of bad decisions in meetings.
- Fruits, granola bars, or little packs of nuts or trail mix present far less risk to the organization.
- Slogan posters
- Slogan posters are those large colorful wall posters that bear platitudinous messages that sound like they make sense, but actually do not. Examples: "Good Things Come to Those Who Hustle;" "To Stand Out from the Competition, Stand Together as a Team."
- Inspiration is the intention, of course. But inspiration comes from inspirational people, not posters. If there aren't enough inspirational people among existing employees, have a look at your hiring and retention practices. And take down the posters.
- Bullet points
- Presentation software favors bullet points — short text fragments that suggest an intended meaning, but which are often too short to exclude unintended meanings. We're so accustomed to using presentations to communicate that we've begun to talk and think in bullet points. Unintended meanings abound.
- Let's go back to thinking and speaking not in bullet points, but in more fully formed, less ambiguous, and more complete thoughts.
- Reorganizations change the organizational authority hierarchy of the organization, and possibly the responsibilities of its people. The goal, we're told, is improved alignment between the organizational structure and the needs of a changing environment. We adapt.
- But associated with reorganizations is some collateral damage. Reorgs scramble relationships, which can be a source of sadness and lost effectiveness, though we rarely give that much thought. And often, just as we settle in with the new way things are, along comes another reorg. One must wonder: maybe the reorgs aren't about effectiveness. Maybe scrambling relationships is the point.
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- When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our
debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical,
and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
- Virtual Communications: I
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some
guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments,
other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant,
what can we do?
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
- Paradoxical Policies: I
- Although most organizational policies are constructive, many are outdated or nonsensical, and some are
actually counterproductive. Here's a collection of policies that would be funny if they weren't real.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 20: Paid-Time-Off Risks
- Associated with the trend to a single pool of paid time off from separate categories for vacation, sick time, and personal days are what might be called paid-time-off risks. If your team must meet customer expectations or a schedule of deliverables, managing paid-time-off risks can be important. Available here and by RSS on November 20.
- And on November 27: Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program.
Here's a date for this program:
- Gardner Village, 1100 W 7800 S, West Jordan, UT 84084: November
Quarterly Training Session, sponsored by Northern Utah Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Gardner Village, 1100 W 7800 S, West Jordan, UT 84084: November 21, Quarterly Training Session, sponsored by Northern Utah Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.