These actions instantly make sense because we can sympathise with people wanting to replicate desirable outcomes even though they do not know the full story, behaving in a way that seems irrational, making empty and irrelevant gestures. Like buying the same make of clubs as Tiger Woods to improve your golf swing, or planting tomato seeds in the same coloured pot each year because that one once produced a bumper crop.
Cargo cult is not a common term in the design industry, but every development engineer I have asked knows about it. For them, it describes the unthinking adoption of a couple of activities from the agile programming methodology, like stand-ups and bi-weekly planning sessions, with the hope of reaping the benefits of the working philosophy, but without the purpose and management structure that gives them value. Mimicking the appearance of ‘agile’ like this is, of course, a complete waste of time, and the resulting ‘cargo cult agile’ is a source of much scepticism in the industry.
If this is easy to understand, and we join the techies in their abhorrence of cargo culture in their working patterns, does it shine a light on our work in designing workspaces?
Google has installed slides in several of its offices, mostly in North America, and so, in an attempt to recreate the success and fun of this world beating company, it has been widely copied, but imitators have misunderstood the cause and effect. Slides did not make Google great, their healthy appetite for experimentation just allowed slides to happen. The slides are artefacts in a cargo cult.