I was reading a book on language and it’s impact over our thoughts and action. It was stating that language allows us to transcend the limits of our own experience and connect to the experience of others and avoid rediscovering what others have already discovered. It avoids following the false trails and repeating their errors. In essence, language is what has helped us a species to pick up where others left off. Language therefore enables us to make progress.

As I was reading this, it reminded of a conversation I overheard in a public space. It was a person holding a meeting for a company I had worked for. They were talking about a topic I had been involved in 10 years prior to that. There was a lot of good will, enthusiasm and energy in the group in that meeting to solve this issue. I listened in with particular interest because it sounded so incredibly exactly like the turn of events that happened 10 years ago. They were going to explore the same avenues as their predecessors and I could already have pointed them to the true cause, saving time, money (120k in fact) and energy (but I wasn’t part of this conversation remember).

This made me wonder why organisations have amnesia and how come we loose the benefits of language and end up rediscovering ourselves over and over again. I have also noticed that often organisations aren’t aware they are doing this.

I remember that in that company you had a career if you were promoted every 3, 4 years maximum. Managers would mostly be in a role in passing, on their way to somewhere else. People who were nominated in a role often joked about receiving “negative overlap”, in essence the person who was supposed to bring them up to speed had left for their next role before they had even been recruited. There was no handover. Nothing was transmitted through language or any other means.

I find this particularly interesting because whilst the management of an organisation may suffer from a collective systemic amnesia, the long term employees don’t. They can see that this brand-new change initiative that everyone is excited about is just another flavour of something that they have experienced multiple times in the past. No wonder management initiatives are met with cynicism!

How do we prevent this? There isn’t a single solution, but we can address at a systemic level and ensure that knowledge flows through the organisation. There is also an incredible opportunity to uncover the polarities that govern your organisation and lead to going through cycles that repeat themselves every 3-5 years. If polarity management doesn’t speak to you, let’s talk, you’re missing on valuable insights that will save you time and currently cost you money and employee goodwill.