Living the Meme

I have to admit, a client of ours made up that phrase in the middle of a meeting. “We’re living the meme, Wahn!” he declared, and then added with a wink, “You can go ahead and use that.” He knew it was a great expression. His name is John, and he’s the CEO of a large corporate training organization, one of the best. And he’s a man of great instinct. (Per my previous blog post called “Memes Really Do Come True”, a meme is a self-repeating, self-perpetuating sequence of ideas. Basically, something that has a viral, repeatable quality.)

After doing a brand mapping session with our sister company Scientific Intelligence, John and his senior management team went on, with a little help from us, to develop an entirely new strategic plan, revamp their website, develop a new brand identity and tagline, create new social media programs, redesign their offices, re-evaluate their products and services, ideate new ones, co-author a book — what have I left out? And sure enough, the industry noticed. Clients noticed. Clients told other clients. Competitors who never took them seriously started to monitor their activities (always a good sign). Business is growing.

What does this prove? That in business, two things matter, above all:

1) Know your memes. Have a clear sense of where you can play, and where you can’t. This is what we often call Permission Space ™ at Wunderkind and Scientific Intelligence. The territory in the imagination, the role and the meaning you’re naturally given by society. Then within that, what is the self-repeating set of ideas, the virtuous cycle, that constitutes you/your brand at your best.

2) Live your memes. Have the courage and creativity to parlay this Permission Space™ into products, services, behaviours and experiences that truly bring your memes to life, consistently and continuously. The role of courage is not to be underestimated. Often, an opportunity, or even your instinct, will present itself – and to wait for “proof” or a guarantee of success before you take the leap, is to hesitate and lose.

The second point is perhaps even more important than the first. It’s said that in the military a general has to make key decisions (life or death, in most cases) with somewhere between 30 and 70 percent of the information needed to make the decision. Rarely, if ever, does he or she have more than 70 percent, and the clock is always ticking. So the power of courage is never to be underestimated. Even if you don’t know your memes for sure, listen to your instincts, and try something. Learn from the experience, and if you’re perceptive (or if you work with folks like us!), then your memes will reveal themselves to you. And before you know it, you’ll be living the meme.