Corporate Memory Loss – How We Forget Together

Posted: June 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

We had a quiz at Friendship Hour today that included a guessing game that got me thinking about a theory that someone really ought to take up as a Masters’ thesis. Mind you, they’ve probably already done that, and I just haven’t caught up yet.

By the way, Friendship Hour is the fortnightly programme for over 55’s at Maida Vale Baptist Church.

The idea of the game was that we were sitting in groups and each group was shown a tray that had 10 small items. The tray was then taken away and as a group we had to write down the 10 items as we could remember them.

I found it rather interesting that five of us at the table where I was sitting were able to remember most of the items until we got to the 10th item and we all struggled to remember the final item. 

My theory is that a group of people can have a joint blockage of memory. We had all seen the same items, but five people were struggling to remember each of the 10 items. While you would expect five people to have five times the memory, what was actually happening is that there was a combined memory blockage.

At a broader level, I have observed that organisations can develop corporate memory blockage, because together we become controlled by “group think”.

That’s why some organisations get stuck in an experience of doing the same things year after year and are unable to explore new ways of doing things. Rather than people being given the freedom to extend their thinking and challenge others, we tend to be restrained by the group thinking, usually quite unintentionally. And to make things worse, our corporate memory seems to recollect the failures, the problems and the difficulties of past situations, while the achievements and wins become lost in the mists of time.

I’ve been reading lately about the early Hebrew people who travelled together from Egypt to what was described as “The Promised Land”. They had experienced God’s goodness and grace in many different ways, but they participated in what has been described as “The Great Grumbling”. Rather than remembering the good times, including God’s grace, they could only remember the difficult parts of the journey and began grumbling.

Psalm 95, which gives an account of some of this grumbling seeks to bring back the better parts of corporate memory with these words:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

I reckon worship is one of the most powerful ways of helping us to deal with corporate memory loss. What do you think?

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