Coping with Corporate Dementia– Forget to Prepare, Prepare to be Forgotten: Cognitive Decline in Workplaces…

Some organizations behave as if they are not fully functional– a form of ‘corporate dementia’ or ‘cognitive decline’… they have difficulty– reasoning, remembering, planning, organizing, coordinating, communicating, erratic behavior, difficulty with complex tasks, paranoia…

So question is: Is there such a thing as corporate dementia? Short answer is: Could be… These symptoms of dysfunctional organizations are often synonymous with the symptoms of dementia… (Note: As disclaimer, this reference is not meant to be disrespectful to people who are affected with dementia, it’s very serious disease)…

According to Ben & Chris; etymologically, dementia means deprived of mind… According to Wikipedia; dementia is serious loss of cognitive ability or cognitive decline…

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One report identified the prevalence of cognitive decline among working-age adults at 4.9% of the population… Another report suggested there that are more than 28.5 million people living with cognitive decline in U.S. alone. And still another report indicates that there may be as many as 30 million individuals with mild ‘traumatic brain injuries’ (TBI) or cognitive decline… Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) causes a slight but measurable decline in people’s memory, language, thinking, judgment…

According to Anek Belbase, Mashfiqur Khan, Alicia Munnell, Anthony Webb; cognitive decline suggests 3-potential workplace outcomes: 1) struggling, barely coping with job cognition. 2) shifting to less cognitive demanding job. 3) unable to adapt and are displaced… About 10% of workers experience cognitive decline, and are more likely to ‘downshift’ to a less demanding job, leave, retire…

In the article Remember to Forget, Borrow, Learn by Marshall Goldsmith writes: Many organizations underestimate just how hard it is to disconnect from its past. Organizations understandably are very complex machines– machines hard-wired to excel in the existing business… But then, as most highly competitive organization do, they come up with a breakthrough idea for an innovative new business, or significant change to the existing business… and that usually suggest that one of the first objectives is to radically change (or destroy ) the existing hard-wiring of the organization…

In other words, when creating a new business, leaders must question every assumption about the way the core organization works… For a breakthrough idea to have a chance, an organization must exercise three fundamental activities: Forget, Borrow, Learn…

They must ‘forget’ the formula that brought success in the existing organization, e.g.; business model, value proposition… They must ‘borrow’ resources from the existing organizational structure, e.g.; experience, talent… They must ‘learn’ how to adapt and succeed in a new environment… Forgetting is one of the most important steps for innovation, e.g.; coaches often preach to forget all of the bad habits that you picked-up along the way

Coaches understand that forgetting is often prerequisite for learning. Forgetting is crucial for innovation because at its core, innovation is an experiment-and-learn process. When a company clings to established mindsets and assumptions, or when it fails to forget, it cannot learn… For organizations to forget they must change the underlying rules and controls of behavior, e.g.; how it hires and promotes, how it confers status, how it plans, how it evaluates business performance, how it awards bonuses, the core values to which it aspires…

In the article Learn To Forget by Alix Spiegel writes: The tendency to forget is something that most people spend much time cursing, e.g.; Where are the keys? What is that person’s name? Where is the meeting? However, Malcolm MacLeod takes a radically different view of– forgetting; how can people improve their ability to forget… he is interested knowing if it might be possible for people to improve their ability to forget… more specifically, the ability to intentionally forget things– eliminate, erase things from a person’s memory. Certainly there are people who compete in memory competitions who practice techniques for ‘remembering’ things, and they are wildly successful at it…

But what if people could use these same techniques but only in a strange reversal way in order to forget things (e.g., techniques for forgetting)… Then could people expand their ability to forget things in the same way that people expanded their ability to remember things? According to MacLeod and Saima Noreen; they decided to give ‘forgetting’ a try, and went about setting-up some experiments… and what they consistently found was that– people do forget things or facts, but they don’t forget how those things or facts made them feel…

Similarly a quote by Carl W. Buehner; people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel… Hence, MacLeod and Noreen believe that capacity to forget is as important, and as interesting, as an ability to remember… and learning to forget can potentially help people to move forward in business…

Curve of Forgetfulness: Do you know what you did two hours ago? What about at 8:45pm yesterday? What if you were asked to recall exactly what time you finished work on Wednesday last week? What about every start and finish time for the whole week? In 1885, a German by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus published his theory of the exponential nature of forgetting… and he represent it on a graph called ‘the forgetting curve’… which provides a rather succinct explanation of how memory worsens over time.

The ‘forgetting curve’ hypothesizes decline of memory retention over time. The curve depicts how information is lost, over time, when there is no attempt to retain it… A related concept is the ‘strength of memory’ that refers to the durability that memory traces in the brain, e.g.; the stronger the memory, then the longer the period of time a person is able to recall the information…

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A typical forgetting curve graph purports to show that people tend to ‘halve their memory’ (i.e., remember one half) of newly learned  information in a matter of days…  unless they consciously review the learned material again… For example, consider new information you might have heard at work on Monday: If you don’t reinforce or ‘touch’ this new information again, and often, after you first learn about it then this is what happens: After 24 hours without reinforcement, you forget about 40% of it. After two days without practice, you forget 60%…

Hence, forgetting information you hear only once or twice is not the result of a poor mind– it’s the result of an efficient mind that remembers what’s important, and forgets what isn’t… (Clearly there are exceptions– there are people with a special gift for memory retention). Hence by reviewing information several times after you have heard or read it; you in effect are telling your mind that it’s something important enough to remember. But without reinforcement and review, you will most likely forget a large portion of what you learn…

In the article Organizations Suffer From Leadership Dysfunction by Mike Myatt writes: Have you ever wondered why organizations tolerate dysfunctional leaders? The answer is that dysfunction (or cognitive decline) is so prevalent in many organizations that it’s often not even recognized as problematic… Many organizations hire leaders to go along with the agenda, and get along with everyone, more than they desire a proactive leaders.

Hence, organizational leadership is rapidly becoming an oxymoron… Think of those you know in a position of leadership, and you may more likely than not conclude that most of these people are not leaders, but risk managers… When leaders become conformists who desire to control instead of innovate, they not only fail to inspire and challenge, they fail to lead… Leaders have become synonymous with babysitting in many organizations… They do nothing more than signal a lack of trust in the workforce. There is probably no time in modern business history where employees feel– less valued, less trusted… Remember, a leader’s job is not to place people in a box, but to free them from boxes…

It’s not difficult to find signs of leadership dysfunction or sense of cognitive decline… in many organizations– just look around… Most organizations eventually reach a point of– what is often refer to as– ‘maturity’ and some call it ‘institutionalization’… This occurs when– innovative cognition is replace with– blending to a norm, and that sadly becomes the norm...

The larger an organization becomes the more acceptable mediocrity seems to become, and the more corporate dementia seems to settle in… Hence, the problem; leadership must exist to disrupt mediocrity; not embrace it… but when it does happens, it’s a sign of pending cognitive decline… When history offers its commentary on the evolution of modern organizational practices; surprise story-line is that  organizations are unwittingly accepting cognitive decline, and engaged in systematic killing the concept of leadership…

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The so-called advances in organizational theory have been so grossly over-weighted toward risk management that organizations are now built to prevent failure rather than encourage success… Great leaders possess a healthy embrace of failure– they encourage team members to take risks…

When ‘process’ becomes more important than people, when ‘collaboration’ is confused with having a meeting, when ‘potential’ is held in higher regard than performance, and when ‘independent thinking’ takes a backseat to conformity, then leadership is dysfunctional at best and cognitively deprived at worst…

Leadership simply cannot be engineered according to the mass adoption of a set of rules (I.e., best practices). Leadership is breaking rules to discover change and innovation (i.e., next practices)… Leadership is about resisting corporate dementia and cognitive decline…