Monday, 21 April 2014

Forget tribes in Polynesia.

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

Forget tribes in Polynesia. Open your windows and you’ll see urban tribes, corporate tribes, religious tribes, political tribes and sports tribes. The ‘social proof’ mechanism of influence operates nicely here, sometimes even without saying a word. This mechanism ensures that ‘everybody here says, does, behaves, wears X, Y, Z, etc’. This is the generic, largely unconscious copying and imitation that has been well-studied by sociologists and social psychologists for many years under the broad label of ‘conformity’ mechanisms, which I mentioned above.

Homo Imitans needs to belong to and feel part of something that provides meaning, context or simply a psychological (or physical) shelter (a safe(r) place or a power/control centre). This was the case in the communes in the seventies and it still happens in day-to-day society today. Tribal Homo Imitans copies clothing, look and hairstyle, lexicon, behaviours and rituals5. In the era of the cult of diversity, our similarities are embarrassingly colossal.

Corporate Homo Imitans is particularly interesting. One of the problems of ‘modern management’ is that it ignores anthropology6. It thinks it doesn’t need it in order to calculate Return on Investment (ROI) or to deliver the five-year strategic plan. But corporate Homo Imitans is a perfect object of interest under the anthropological umbrella. It has rites of passage (talent pool goes to Harvard), rituals (annual business plan process), tribal ceremonies (offsite conferences for the entire company) and other gluing mechanisms.

Some of those corporate rituals practiced by Homo Imitans on the payroll are completely inefficient from the organizational or business perspective (in some cases even utterly useless). This is a fact well-known by many corporate leaders.

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