Making a Mark

We all likely belong to one or more institutions. Some belong to many. I’d always wondered why I “stuck” with and to some institutions, while others faded out.

I wondered, that is, until I read David Brooks piece called, “How to Leave a Mark on People.” Here is part of what he said:

Some organizations are thick, and some are thin. Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory. Which raises two questions: What makes an institution thick? If you were setting out consciously to create a thick institution, what features would it include?

A thick institution is not one that people use instrumentally, to get a degree or to earn a salary. A thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul. So thick institutions have a physical location, often cramped, where members meet face to face on a regular basis, like a dinner table or a packed gym or assembly hall.

Thin institutions tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.

In the former, there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus — Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization. In the latter, there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love. Think of a bunch of teachers watching a student shine onstage or a bunch of engineers adoring the same elegant solution.

What about your institutions?

Want more? Read the full article here.