work life
November 14, 2022

Create memes to exert influence

Part of being successful working at a large organization is being effective at socializing your ideas. This could be anything from vision and strategy, project proposals, logistics, etc. To gain adoption, it helps to think of these ideas as memes.

I am talking about “memes” as described in Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene. Memes are ideas that spread.

“Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”

― Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Here are two suggestions to help your ideas catch on.

1. Visualize your idea

People react to visuals. A good image is attention-grabbing. Graphs, data visualization, diagrams, etc. are a form of condensed information that make concepts easier to understand and share.

Visuals can help when explaining certain complex thoughts. Hierarchies, data flows, group relationships, taxonomies, and architectural diagrams, are all examples of topics that are easier covered/explained with visuals.

Another advantage of using visuals is that images don’t rely on the language processing centers in our brains. Speaking over a slide of bullet points is the best way to confuse your audience. On the other hand, you can display a visual and talk over it at the same time without confusing our interlocutor. Visuals allow you to increase your communication bandwidth.

2. Label your idea

I already talked about [[2022-11-03 - The Power of Labeling|labeling]], the process by which we give an idea a concrete name to refer to it. Labeling helps people to pay more attention to new ideas, as well as help recollection at a later time. Labeling also helps give ideas authority, which in turn can help adoption.


Lastly, keep in mind that a successful meme has a tendency to evolve as it spreads through your organization. As the meme brain-jumps, it might change or lose its meaning.

This should be ok if you care about your idea being implemented more than about recognition.

In my experience, it’s a risk worth taking, even if it has caught me by surprise when my memes served slightly different purposes than what I had intended.

“When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.”

― Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

November 14, 2022 · #work life


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