Institutional Archaeology

archaeologyOften overlooked in the undeclared war between generations in the workplace is the fact that most people are not stupid. Thin skinned new entrants into the workforce meet and mingle with the bias of overconfident old timers and chips begin flying off of everybody’s shoulders throughout the organization. Unlike most wars, neither side really has any advantage. It is virtually impossible for either side to win… or lose. The most likely casualty is the business. If new ideas are squelched due to prejudice, or existing thoughts summarily dismissed as archaic, the co-mingling of purpose, a.k.a. collaboration, is missing and forward progress is impossible. Think this is a discussion about Boomers and Gen-X vs. Gen-Y? Wrong! This is not a new phenomenon. When the current “older” generations entered the workforce, they came with the same prejudices and faced the same “back in my day” mentality from the existing workforce. Not to let a good analogy go unused, the herd can be vicious to the new horse being introduced to the team. Hidden in the history of any company is the lost treasure of good data gone missing.

New innovation does not come out of thin air from a zero-based data set. There is always history and there is always a need to build a solid foundation for growth on a basis of facts from previous iterations of that concept. Digging through the archeology of a company must tap into all of the resources that may be a repository of information.

  1. Inquire – The human resource is the most valuable source of information on how things were built, why they were built that way, and the alternatives to the chosen methodology. While memory may be lost over time, the collective knowledge of multiple individuals can fill in the gaps and smooth over any embellishments. This is a form of retroactive brainstorming in that no ideas are dismissed as unrealistic from a current perspective.
  2. Investigate – Recorded information on a concept is the next best way to formulate a plan for moving to the next step in its evolution. Keeping in mind that the data is only as good as the people who recorded it, some interpretive logic may be necessary to incorporate the cultural, social, economic and other environmental impacts on decisions made in the past. This requires a retroactive SWOT analysis to view it from the perspective of those who recorded the data.
  3. Inspect – Sometimes it is necessary to reverse engineer a current process or concept to arrive at a starting point. In doing so, the institutional archeologist is not just retracing steps that led to the design, but at the same time is re-analyzing the assumptions that must have been made to cause these results. Retroactive organizational problem solving is not an easy task because it requires putting aside current thinking in order to think like the ancients.

Along the way, an institutional archeological dig will uncover ghosts of past prejudice as well as unbiased fact. The object of the search is to uncover the priceless relics of truth in a sea of gritty obstructions. That requires carefully brushing away anything that is not relevant. Of all the lessons learned in this exercise, the most important is usually that history repeats itself and that shortsighted decisions and reactions should never have happened in the first place.

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