Oct 5, 2020
Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in his 1976 book called The Selfish Gene. He used the word as “attempt to understand why some behaviors, from an evolutionary perspective, seemed to make no sense, but somehow or other, were found to be very common in human societies.”
Today the term “memes” generates millions of search results that are usually associated with moments in culture. How many times have we seen a meme and instantly know what to expect? From Michael Jordan and his iPad to Tiger King, it’s part of how we’ve stayed connected this year and understood culture while in quarantine. It’s because these static images have become the models of cultural information transfers, which is the very definition of Memetics. Remote working has made it hard to keep company cultures alive — you can hold virtual happy hours daily, but employees will still feel like they’re working in a bubble.
According to Jason Korman, CEO and founder of culture design group Gapingvoid, Memetics is exactly what corporate America needs right now. Jason has helped to transform the cultures of companies like The US Air Force, Zappos, AT&T and more. As basic as it sounds, the solution is to use memes to ensure your remote teams don’t feel stranded. That meme, an image, a virtual background can emit a feeling of connectedness, so everyone knows they’re in it together. What is culture? Designing and executing culture change or culture reinforcement remotely is the challenge of the year. Many leaders are questioning how this can be done.
To reason through the problem and see the solution, we first need to define culture. Though there are many frameworks and opinions, the Culture Science™ definition states: Culture is the water your people swim in. It is the characteristically undefined norms that drive in an unseen and often misunderstood way, your organization’s effectiveness, or ineffectiveness. It is the difference between a job and a career, customers and fanatics, and employees or community. This definition addresses the unseen, but the genuine way that work gets done, and the insight is that ‘culture’ impacts every employee’s decision in everything they do. It may be considered as the ‘psychological programming’ of the population; thus, the idea of letting it develop randomly is very unwise, and possibly even negligent.
Understanding the remote environment means first understanding how culture spreads. Culture spreads through social connection; in extreme cases, via social contagion. There is a well developed evolutionary biology on why units of culture spread, but for our purposes, all we need to understand is that there is a theory on why, and more importantly, how to make culture spread.
In remote environments, it is more challenging to spread culture because of two factors, the inability to control the physical setting and the loss of most non-verbal communication assets. The remedy for this is found in creating new tools that counteract that loss, and ensuring that people understand how to use those tools. It is worth pointing out that we can train on how to use these tools to program our cultures, but we cannot teach people to adopt the lifestyle.
Cultural adoption is far more complex; it is about observation, copying, and testing. This means observing people who we view as successful, copying their beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors, and then testing them to see if “they work for me.” If we accept this, then we recognize that these new tools are created by capturing the units of culture, codifying, and then encouraging them to spread.
The capture, codifying, and disseminating is an exercise in discovery, memetic design, and semiotic build. Culture is formed through distributed learning and is, in fact, a function of distributed cognition.
SOURCE: Benjamin Laker
MAIN IMAGE: What is culture and how can you spread it remotely? GETTY