Institutional Memory

by talkbackty on Apr 10, 2012

Part 9 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. To see all entries, click here.

Whenever you start a job at a new company it is likely that some middle-manager type will eventually give the introductory talk. This is their moment to wax poetic about the company's values, the mission statement and the family that you have now entered into. Really this is the moment when the company does its best to instill some institutional memory upon its newest employee.

A simple guess can give one a good definition of institutional memory, "The collective memory of a group, organization or institution." It is most easily seen in government bureaucracies. High turn-over at the upper levels, usually because of elections/appointments, would lead to utter chaos if it actually lead to drastic changes. Institutional memory is preserved by low turn-over in all areas other than the very top. Imagine a newly elected head-of-state trying to lead the government to the right or left, institutional memory allows the group to walk in whatever direction its head points.

All corporations, groups, organizations have some type of institutional memory in place. The difference between a company like Apple or Microsoft is in how dedicated individuals are to preserving that institutional memory. Therefore, it is incredibly beneficial for corporations, groups and organizations to work hard at perfecting their specific brand of institutional memory.

This is precisely why the public school system was invented. To further the institutional memory of a government and the supporters of governments- corporations. Regardless of what is said about the goal of schools today, historically, schools were designed to produce obedient workers who were intelligent enough to assemble things on a factory line.

As our society becomes more industrialized and corportized, it is more important than ever to realize the extent of institutional memory. Right now, buying an iPhone versus an Android is a big decision that can lock consumers in to various contracts, both legal and social. And companies are always attempting to increase their institutional memory by recruiting more willing spokespeople, namely, their own customers. Think about what is more valuable to you: The review of a close friend or a commercial on TV? Companies, governments and groups of every color know the answer is a close friend, and they will do everything in their power to encourage customers to speak favorably about them. When you buy a product or vote for a politician you are joining a club, often one with a long history that may or may not be important to you.

It is always valuable to keep the big picture in mind. We are so busy trying to put together the puzzle pieces of life that we forget to check the box every now and then for guidance. Institutional memory can be a blessing and a curse, but we should always be aware of it, and other large social forces that influence our thought process.