Life in Organizations LO9826

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
08 Sep 96 10:52:55 EDT

Replying to LO9787 --

On the subject of systems and 'memes' it has been said -- I found it

> ... We do not have the ability to
>provide intent and direction, unless we start to realise how much we are
>trapped and conditioned by our inherited mental patterns


> - and also realise that without those shared patterns we would not have
>any form of organisation. People do not just make systems. People are blindly
>self-organised into emergent systems, 'made' by other 'patterns'

>The shift of viewpoint I am trying to offer is, I think
>at least, subtler. It is that the 'system' actually creates us, and until
>we realise it we do not have the power. I am not 'blaming the system' I am
>seeking to understand from whence the power comes.

== end quote ==

An example might help. There is a recent book about Robert McNamara --
sorry, I heard the author speak, but I do not have the book -- in which he
describes the period of the excalation of the viet Nam War. McNamara was
a 'whiz kid' who had a background in cost control and accounting. His
approach to everything was very disciplined, systematic and organized.
Necessarily, he brought that background and way of thinking to his work at
the Defense Department and to the running of the war.

As a consequence of that perspective, his initial approach to fighting the
war was to bring massive firepower to the task on the grounds that for
every pound of explosive used, x number of enemy soldiers would be killed,
and eventually the enemy would have to surrender. This approach was a
direct outcome of his thinking, his education, and the fact that this
thinking contributed massively to his prior success at Ford Motor Company.
One could say it was a consequence of his memes, and that he was unable to
see the flaws in his thinking.

The book I heard about describes a scene, right after the massive buildup
in 1966 in which a senior general went to McNamara with a series of
scenarios about the war. The general showed McNamara very clearly, that
for every enemy soldier killed, there was a relationship of y Americans
killed, and to kill 20% of the enemy army would require almost 200,000
fatalities in Americans. A price no one would have ever accepted. As a
result of that meeting, McNamara must have been instantly aware of at
least one fatal flaw in his plan. it must have changed his meme about the
war and the process for ending it. Shortly thereafter he began to work
within the Johnson administration to reverse the American strategy.
Unfortunately, by then too many other people were committed to a flawed

Interestingly, McNamara was very successful at getting the leadership to
buy into his plan to fight the war, but he was unable to get them to
reverse direction. Presumably their memes were too powerful for them to
be able to change direction, or their perception was that it would be
politically fatal. Of course, it turned out to be politically fatal

I think this illustrates a situation in which memes prevented someone from
'seeing' all the consequences of his actions. In this case we can see the
meme because it was later exposed. However, in many other cases, the meme
may not ever be exposed, so we will never be aware of it.

For me the two key points to all this is that a) we may be blinded to all
of the forces acting upon and creating or influencing our view of the
world. But b) aside from people which includes ourselves, there is no
other intelligence that is capable of analyzing, recognizing, and changing
a meme. Thus from my perspective, existence of memes clearly limits the
actions we can perceive, but it does not relieve us from examining our
world with a view to understanding it, and attempting to change it where
we perceive that it needs to be changed. The notion of memes helps me
understand what I am up against, and helps me examine the world with an
eye toward identifying these memes.


Rol Fessenden LL Bean, Inc.

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