Let's talk about Memetic engineering.
🤔 Why you should care about it
"Memes are to culture what genes are to life. Just as biological evolution is driven by the survival of the fittest genes in the gene pool, cultural evolution may be driven by the most successful memes." - Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist, in The Selfish Gene.
Memes can be significant, contagious, and at times dangerous units of information that spread through imitation among receptive or susceptible individuals. The existence of a negative dominant cluster of memes can lead to a toxic organisational culture, the promotion of unproductive behaviours and actions, and the obstruction of the company's goals. Memetic engineering is a technique for instilling desirable cultural characteristics into the collective consciousness of the organisation's personnel to attain optimal organisational results.
Lack of engagement —> lack of positive memes can create an environment where team members don't know why they should work hard and collaborate.
Resistance to adopting best practices —> scaling change at the organisational level is notoriously tricky, especially when it involves changing long-lasting behaviours or actions.
Misinformation —> growing organisations with uncontrolled memes often encourage the spread of misinformation, which can lead to bad decisions or a highly political environment.
Memetic engineering can be implemented through a process of meme mapping. This process involves identifying the levels of memetic fidelity, susceptibility of potential hosts, and resonance within each meme. By using this diagnostic tool, managers can gain insights into the cultural landscape of their organisation and the impact of memes on organisational outcomes and culture.
For example, imagine a software organisation whose current engineering culture needs to emphasise software quality. To address this issue using memetic engineering, team leaders should :
- Define the desired outcome, here an "organisational culture that prioritises software quality";
- Design and create new memes, using, for example, slogans like "bugs shall not pass", "quality starts in code", "I test, therefore I am";
- Spread the memes during training sessions, internal communications and team-building activities;
- Monitor and refine the process;
- Evaluate the outcome.
💡 Key Concepts
Memes —> cultural units of information transmitted from person to person that influence thoughts, behaviours, and values.
Meme theory —> theory that examines how ideas, symbols, and cultural practices spread and evolve through human populations.
Organisational culture —> shared beliefs, values, practices, and behaviours characterising an organisation and shaping its collective identity.
Cultural change —> the design, spread, and refinement of new attitudes and actions to shape organisational culture and achieve specific outcomes.
"Memetic engineering can be used for unethical purposes, such as manipulating people's thoughts and behaviours." —> It is true that memetic engineering has the potential to be used for unethical purposes. However, its ethical use ultimately depends on the intentions and motivations of those who implement it.
"Memetic engineering, as a vector for cultural change, lacks of scientific evidence." —> several case studies suggest that memetic engineering can be a powerful tool for shaping organisational culture and promoting desirable attitudes and behaviours.
"Once memes are introduced into an organisation, they can spread rapidly and take on a life of their own." —> while the rapid spread of memes can be both a strength and a weakness of memetic engineering, it is essential for organisations to be proactive and strategic in their approach.
📚 Top book
The Meme Machine - Susan Blackmore
🗂 See also
📝 Top content
Memetic Engineering: A Framework for Organisational Diagnosis and Development - Richard Jan Pech, Bret W. Slade
Engineering Engineering Culture with Memes - Bruce Johnson