Memes of the Four Memeplexes

Memes of the Four Memeplexes

In the course of working to Map the Memeplexes of the Marshall Model, I’ve got as far as listing what I regard as key memes in each of the four memeplexes (a.k.a. organisational mindsets). To remind myself – and to keep you dear readers posted – here they are. (Expect some further amendments, not least in the light of hoped-for comments and suggestions).

What are these memes?

The memes listed below are the various – and interlocking – assumptions or beliefs held by the folks working in an organisation, in the context of their membership of that organisation. Any individual may hold some other beliefs or assumptions outside of “work”, but these are the prevailing – and most often, implicit – beliefs and assumptions when they are a member of a group.


  • Being “organised” takes too much time, doesn’t pay back, and isn’t much fun
  • “Stability” is outside of our vocabulary
  • “Discipline” is outside of our vocabulary
  • “Planning” is outside of our vocabulary
  • Personal advancement comes from visibly working hard (long hours)
  • Hard work (long hours) brings results
  • Focus is random and ephemeral
  • “Communication” is outside of our vocabulary
  • We have little to learn from e.g. outside
  • “Justice” is the prerogative of the owners (aka feudalism)
  • Work should be done any way possible (JFDI)
  • “Theory” (particularly, about people) is outside of our vocabulary
  • “Slack” is outside of our vocabulary
  • “Organisation” is irrelevant


  • People aren’t up to – nor up for – being trusted
  • Avoid inter-personal conflict
  • Deny emotions
  • Discipline must be imposed (extrinsic)
  • Stability is paramount
  • Predictability is desirable – and best secured through control (coercion, compulsion)
  • Personal advancement comes from looking busy whilst keeping your head down
  • Hard work is someone else’s problem
  • The organisation is a machine
  • Focus is unusual and hard to sustain
  • “Communication” is (simply) what happens when people interact
  • Too much “communication” is dangerous
  • Learning is overrated (too much trouble, insufficient payback)
  • “Justice” should be punitive a.k.a. authoritarianism
  • Work should be done in projects
  • Theory X applies (cf McGregor)
  • Slack is bad, busy is good, utilisation is all
  • Homogeneity, uniformity is good
  • Optimise the separate parts of the organisation to ensure optimisation of the whole
  • Improvement comes about out-of-band, through e.g. carefully managed change programmes
  • Common sense is just that – common
  • Decision-making is a natural talent, and requires drive and dynamism
  • Productivity is a consequence of individual efforts and talents


  • Shared, common purpose is the key to effectiveness
  • Transparency is good
  • Dialogue is good and requires skill, and practice to develop
  • Discipline comes from inside (Intrinsic)
  • Much work is planned, each plan becomes irrelevant over time
  • Trust is necessary, and based on vulnerability and openness
  • Conflict can be productive if approached skilfully
  • Embrace emotions
  • The organisation is like a living organism (complex adaptive system)
  • Stability is desirable
  • Personal advancement is a chimera
  • Hard work is pointless (the way the work works is the governor)
  • Focus is constant
  • “Communication” is an organisational capability which requires conscious development (of e.g. skills)
  • One can never have too much communication
  • We place much value on learning
  • “Justice” should be remediative (restitutional)
  • Work should flow
  • Theory Y applies (cf McGregor)
  • Slack is good, busy is bad, utilisation is madness
  • Heterogeneity, diversity is good
  • Optimising the separate parts of the organisation will ensure sub-optimisation of the whole
  • Improvement comes about in-band, through e.g. a separate focus on continual improvement
  • Common sense is highly counter-intuitive, and thus uncommon
  • Decision-making is prone to all kinds of hidden cognitive biases, and requires care
  • Productivity is a consequence of the system (the way the work works), not individuals (Deming’s 95/5 rule applies)


  • Instability is desirable, a necessary capability
  • Discipline is a given (self-discipline, organisational discipline)
  • Awareness is a given (self-awareness, organisational awareness)
  • All work is planned, plans are immediately redundant
  • Focus is laser sharp and yet capable of instant redirection
  • Hard work (long hours) undermines positive opportunism
  • Too much communication can hamper instability and a rapid reaction to events
  • We just can’t ever learn fast enough
  • Work should be in a “constant state of ship”
  • Heterogeneity, diversity is essential
  • There’s no time for optimisations
  • Improvement happens as a natural, automatic consequence of doing business (BAU)
  • Decision-making cannot be trusted, experimentation can reduce hidden biases
  • Productivity is a consequence of the opportunities pursued

As mentioned above, I’d love for you to contribute to this shared endeavour. Maybe you’d care to post a comment, below?

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Development for the Lean Enterprise (“The Blue Book”) ~ Michael Kennedy
Goodbye, Command and Control ~ Margaret Wheatley
Freedom From Command and Control ~ John Seddon
Leadership and the New Science ~ Margaret Wheatley

  1. very good! when reading, it reminded me of the old keirsey-bates personality test. a given person or company may have a score in each of the 4 domains, with one or two dominant over the others. one’s score in turn would suggest compatibility with other people/companies.

    i’d consider myself 2/3 synergistic, 1/3 chaordic.

  2. Bob — After reading this post, it made me revisit a question that comes into my head from time to time: How come in some companies, slackers can hide behind process. In smaller, flatter companies like my own, there are literally no slackers. Slackers won’t last … not only is there no place to hide but they’d be called out by other employees who are totally engaged in improving the lives of clients and team mates.

    So, I thought this would be a great theme (which you’ve touched on many times) for a post. How come in some companies, slackers survive and even climb the corporate ladder … while in other companies, slackers will be called out immediately.

  3. Excellent list! Thanks a lot for sharing. I am going to try and use it inside our organisation, to understand the differences between organizational mindsets between different development groups.

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