I’m interested in how people and organisations can make use of rituals to operationalise their knowledge.
We theoretically know a lot about how to do things. There is plenty of high-quality writing (and even more low-quality…) about every field, and about organisations and management in general. Plus, we all have lived experience. But I feel that there are large differences between people and organisations in (1) capturing and (2) operationally applying this knowledge. Apparently only a single-digit percentage of firms consistently apply basic management practices like meetings having an agenda and follow-ups.
Ritual practices seem to have the potential to make this capture and application more automatic. By ritual, I mean a practice that has a specific and non-obvious form, not just something like a daily team meeting or a monthly team social.
Some examples of rituals:
Five Whys. A meeting technique for interrogating a problem to discover root causes, without personally victimising participants, and developing follow-up preventative actions. Originally developed as part of the Toyota Production System; now used in many organisations.
Safety shares. Some companies, especially in mining and construction, start every meeting with a “safety share” - somebody present describing a personal experience of a health and safety incident. This applies even to white-collar meetings, where the participants might share something from their home lives (e.g. an incident with a repair contractor), the idea being to instil a culture of safety across the whole organisation.
Bed making in the military. The US military expends effort on inspecting junior soldiers’ beds to ensure they are properly made, as a ritual means of instilling discipline and attention to detail. (This also applies to similar practices like rifle cleaning, although some also have clear practical purposes.)
After-action reviews. Originally a US military practice, and now conducted by many organisations, but usually poorly. Figuring out how to actually apply the lessons obtained from an AAR - e.g. via another ritual - can be a challenge.
Brains-trust meetings. At Pixar, an experienced group of directors give candid feedback on other works in progress. You can generalise this to “there should be a formal, regular process for people to receive expert feedback on the direction of creative work.” Mandatory murder-boards for things like external pitches and presentations are in a similar vein.
No-meeting days. Some companies, including Basecamp, have learnt that meetings impact productivity and have actually taken action by instituting particular days as designated no-meeting times.
The Ritual Design Lab designs secular rituals for corporate clients. But many seem pretty trivial: there is one that involves eating a parking ticket, and others that are basically office graduation ceremonies or office parties. The “meeting escape hatch” - where anyone can leave a meeting after 1 minute with no judgement, if it’s not relevant - is potentially useful.
Benjamin Franklin’s Junto Club had a regular set of questions to prompt discussion at their weekly meeting.
The Roman slave continually whispering memento mori, "remember that you will die", in the ear of a commander celebrating a Triumph. Remember that you have a finite amount of resources and time is probably something that should be continually whispered within many organisations and maybe implemented via tools. For example, there could be an Outlook plugin where you can specify a time budget for a thread, forcing you to finalise things that aren't important quickly.
Beating the bounds, a physical ritual to pass on knowledge from one generation to the next
YouTube rituals, especially around setting the right metrics targets and conducting planning activities towards them (eg getting OKRs on the right cadence)
Some questions to consider about rituals:
How might you design rituals to counter common thinking fallacies, such as bikeshedding or availability bias? These would probably be in-meeting practices designed to act as circuit breakers for fuzzy thinking.
If you adopt a ritual, how do you monitor performance and ensure true gains, not just a cargo-cult simulation of whoever originally designed it? (Is there a cultural context that makes these rituals successful, rather than the rituals themselves?)