Shattering the Meme

For the third annual novena at the Patron Saint of Architecture, I want to help you to see all of the unlimited potential you have and start putting it to work for you.  Novenas are an annual chance to look in-depth at issues that affect how we operate in the world.  In past novenas we looked at how we can truly make a difference in the world, and how to overcome the things that drain our creativity.  This year, we will center around all of the things that we may not even know are holding us back, so that you can shatter those memes and become all that you were meant to be.

Memes, those ideas or beliefs that pervade our culture, are hard to avoid.  Like frogs in the pot, we don’t even know that they’re affecting us, they just seem to be the way it is.  As creative people we are especially susceptible to memes because there’s a certain voodoo around the act of creation.  When your work involves acts for which there is no right answer, you can only respond by evoking memes. The memes of a culture and its expectations, the memes of professional conduct, the memes of what a relationship with a client is supposed to look like.  But what if the meme is wrong? 

We can see the short-term effects of memes in viral internet content.  People get caught up in the topic, idiomatic speech may even be affected.  Then it passes.  Observing these micormemes allows us to see how something can be incredibly relevant due to factors taking place at the moment then pass away like a fad. I want to try to look at metamemes in much the same way.  That’s a lot harder to do.  Even if you can see that there may be something beyond, you might not see why it’s even in your interests to pursue it. 

Live outside the fishbowl
It’s important to realize that memes can operate on two different levels.  The horizontal level is what we absorb from our peers and other surroundings. Those memes can be, but aren’t always, easier to identify.  The more insidious memes are the ones that operate on a vertical level through cultural inheritance.  It’s what you learned about the culture of your profession from your professors and mentors, what your employers and co-workers have enforced, even what your parents thought.  If memes are all around us and have helped to form our beliefs about who we are and what’s possible in our lives and careers, that means we are not necessarily aware of them.  In this nine week series, we are going to bust through some common memes and shatter all of the limitations they hold.  I warn you, this will be both challenging and scary.  Your first reaction will be to disagree, but I ask you to sit with it and really think about why you might be unwilling to question a given issue.  We may not arrive at the same idea for shattering it, but just the realization that there could be a different approach is powerful.

Change the Equation

Believe it or not, most of us live our lives as if everything we encounter were a basic algebra problem.  We use the formulas we know to solve for x (ex. 6 + x = 10).  Unfortunately, solving for x means you have used a meme to eliminate the other variables, in our example that would be the number six or even the outcome, the number 10.  This very straightforward approach to problem solving often causes us to have tunnel vision about achieving outcomes.  If you have ever become frustrated about why you could be doing “all the right things” and still not get the desired outcome, you know what I am talking about.  I want to challenge you to think of things in a different way:  what do you really want the outcome to be?  Not the outcome you think you should achieve, but the one you really want.  Then, work backwards to see how you could achieve it.  Allow there to be more variables and less givens about the situation.  Use a little calculus, or even some differential equations.

Enter the World of Innovative Transformation
Innovative transformation is about challenging yourself to have a game-changing response to the opportunities in your life, instead of your automatic one.  How often do you start a new project the same way you start every other project?  I’m willing to bet you have all kinds of reasons why this is the best or only way to approach things.  You might be open to tweaking your process, but probably feel resistant to throwing it out wholesale.  But what if you did?  Silence all those limiting beliefs and just think about that.  What could happen?  Now think about all of the little things, the small and large decisions you make every single day.  Instead of making them on auto-pilot, start being conscious of them, and start asking yourself what assumptions are tied up in your typical actions.  Change your thinking and change your life.

For the next eight posts, I’m going to present common metamemes that we all deal with and give you strategies for looking at them in a whole different way.  I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences as you work to shatter each one.  The Patron community supports you and I know that you are unlimited.