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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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are
directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
- Decisions: How Looping Back Helps
- Group decision-making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options,
researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach
yields disappointing results. Why?
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: I
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts
or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: II
- Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases —
let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content,
even when what they contain is little more than "um."
- Overconfidence at Work
- Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence
— leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can
be most useful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
- And on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.
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- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- 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. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. 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.