For most of human existence, change happened slowly. For generations people hunted and foraged, or later farmed the land or kept animals. Not much changed.

But that’s far from our experience today. We count change in years, not millennia. But why has this happened?

It has happened because of memes.

Memes (coined by Richard Dawkins) are bits of cultural knowledge that spread quickly between people. They are like a pandemic, passing from one person to another. But what is passing is knowledge, not infection.

Things change faster now because knowledge is created and disseminated far quicker than ever before.

Cultural knowledge ‘infects’ people in an organisation, in a family, or in a society. Looking back, we can see how that happened in Nazi Germany, or how it happens in families, organisations, and in societies today.

Knowledge is not the same as information or data. Knowledge contains information but it has explanatory value, and it tells a story. You can collect data, but you create knowledge.

The knowledge that is created and spread between members of an organisation shapes how well that organisation can change.

Darwin is reported to have said that it’s not the fittest of the species that survives. It’s those who are most adaptable to change. What this means is that survival value – and thriving value – is mostly determined by memes, not genes.

It’s the same for organisations today. In this competitive, rapidly changing landscape, it’s the cultural knowledge and how that shapes behaviour that gives the real competitive value. It’s more important that tools and technology.

What do you think? Do you agree, or disagree?

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at