Why organisation theory needs memetics

The nature of corporations as 'artificial persons' exists because the legal structure (which we all believe in) says that it does.  As we saw earlier, this legal system is a memetic construct, so we can say that the idea of the corporation is certainly a meme in its own right.  Knowing that, however, is not especially helpful.  This will not help us to deliver change programmes, improve morale or increase profits.  

What would be far more helpful would be to identify the types of meme inside the organisation and how they interact with us as individuals. If we can do that, then applying meme theory to corporations offers some interesting opportunities: 

  • corporate cultures are traditionally regarded as immutable, because they are intangible.  The idea that the culture might be composed of memes opens the door to understand and changing the core values of a corporation.  This is especially true if we study the role of an immune system in preventing change;
  • if the way a corporation operates can be seen as a set of interlocking memes, we can manipulate these operations using 'memetic engineering' techniques – we can map the memes, kill them selectively, and introduce new ones.  We should therefore be able to improve the ways that the corporation runs;
  • by understanding what memes the workers and managers run and comparing them to the memes of the corporation, we can diagnose and possibly fix the phenomenon of ‘poor corporate fit’. Similarly, understanding how the memes of a corporation map to those of the cultures it is working in should help improve the effectiveness of the corporation in national and international markets; and 
  • an understanding of the mechanisms and dynamics of meme transmission should improve the corporation’s performance in communications-rich areas such as branding, advertising, and customer retention.

Read more: Why organisation theory needs memetics

Why organisations exist

Business literature often describes the factors that guide corporations in three terms: mission, vision, and values.   We will look at what happens when employees don’t share the corporate vision in the good corporate citizen, but for now we will assume that mission, vision and values are common to everyone inside an organisation. But since they differ between organisations, we can be sure that they are carried by memes.

Read more: Why organisations exist

Diagnosing sick organisations

When we looked at types of political structure, we touched briefly on how an aggressive memeplex can take control of a society, and how the resulting single-party state rarely thrive.  I think that a similar thing can happen to a human and in particular how meme clashes lead to cognitive dissonance.  I think that meme imbalances and meme clashes are a major cause of corporate malaise.

Let's look at the most common types of problem:

Read more: Diagnosing sick organisations

How organisations work

The strategic memes of an organisation may carry its what, where and why, but we still need a set of memes to disseminate the how.  We will call these tactical memes, and they exist to ensure that the organisation is manageable.

The capitalist system provides an environment with strong and changing selection pressures for commercial organisations.  Sets of strategic memes that don’t establish themselves well in a niche usually end up being replaced by another company’s memes in an acquisition or extinguished by the system’s bankruptcy meme. But even if the strategic memes are good and the vision is clear, success can still be evaded by having a bad set of tactical memes, or by having tactical memes that fail to support the strategic purpose.

Read more: How organisations work

Case study: Chuck drinks the Kool-aid

I want to end this chapter by relating the story of one of the most charismatic and controversial business leaders of the 20th century, as related by an insider who saw his rise and fall. The leader in question is Ross Perot, and the business he founded was Electronic Data Systems (EDS). Perot’s story illustrates many of the points about the creation and erosion of culture that we made in this section of the site.

Read more: Case study: Chuck drinks the Kool-aid