Science on heritability of memories and phobias has application to organisations

By David Hansen June 3rd 2014

I was drawn to a recent article in the Telegraph newspaper about how memories may be passed down through generations via DNA in a process that may even be the underlying cause of phobias. in-genes-from-ancestors.html

The notion that we are connected – not separate – even through generations is not new. It is ancient wisdom. Yet this article explains how in families memories may be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. The research may even explain how phobias can develop. Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta say the results may help to understand why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.
Science has mostly worked on the assumption that memories and learned experiences, built up during a lifetime, could only be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience. This new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA. The wider Constellations community has long accepted the notion that events can impact across generations and has developed many practices based on this understanding. It is heartening to see science now also expand its paradigm beyond the boundaries of the individual.

In Organisational Constellations an “intergenerational” connection of people and experience is common. One such organisational phenomenon I have seen and worked with is a recurring pattern of unproductive behaviour and poor results in a particular role or department. It is as if a “Hot-Seat” has developed that burns the occupant even when a succession of previously successful people occupy it. I have one client who has seen 6 senior executives come and go in the same role in less than 10 years. All had great credentials, all arrived being the “one to finally make things right” and yet at one level or another all failed to deliver.

A systemic perspective is very useful in these situations. It allows us to step back and look for wider explanations, rather than the usual focus on individual behaviour or capability, which in these types of cases is so obviously not the primary issue. This is why the new science is important. Whilst the research focuses on families it does have relevance to organisations. It supports the need for leaders to open their minds to a wider world of orders, forces and influences – beyond what they can see and measure in a traditional way. This for me has always been is a key benefit of the Constellations approach.

The fact that scientists are looking at trans-generational phenomena and the mechanisms behind them and their claim that scientific methods can decipher these mechanisms is very good news. Evidence that the paradigm shift is already well under way.