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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