There is a story famous physicist Richard Feynman tells about the people of Melanesia in the South Pacific seas. He told the story in his commencement speech in 1974 at Cal Tech.
Feynman recounts…During the war, the people of Melanesia lived on an island that was used for landing planes to provide goods and materials. Fast forward, after the war had ended, they wanted these planes to continue to bring goods.
So they decided to imitate things like runways, control towers, flares on the side of runways, etc. They had men who were acting as the air traffic controllers with wooden pieces on their head like headphones and bamboo sticks like antennas.
They set up all of this and waited for airplanes to land with more goods for the people. But these planes never came. Feynman called this the cargo cult science.
These south pacific people did everything the military did, followed the exact form, but they were missing something essential because the planes never did land.
What happened? Why no planes? Why no goods?
The Melanesia people came into contact with advanced technology and they believed that by just copying what they saw, that would bring the planes with cargo. But there is something much deeper they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand what was attracting these planes in the first place. They had things ‘looking’ the same without understanding the real reason the planes came.
How It Looks In A Program
This is often how leaders build a culture in their programs. They look at a program that they really admire or a leader that they really respect and do what they do. And just like the Melanasia people, they do it without knowing the real reason. They copy what the other program does. From smaller things like copying their dress code to bigger things like using the same cultural values without understanding the core reasons of these values or dress codes.
As a leader, you and your actions and beliefs will shape the culture. Don’t mimic. Know what you believe in. Don’t copy. Know what is really important to you. Know what type of program you want. Be the best you, not a bad someone else.