So… we’re going to talk a bit about a phenomena that originally comes from the study of animals in their natural habitats called “isomorphic mimicry”. What is isomorphic mimicry? It’s a situation in which you get the benefits just by looking like something without really having to be that thing. It’s like a protective, camouflage is one way of mimicking to look like what you’re not.
So, in nature there’s two snakes, there’s the Eastern Coral snake which is deadly venomous. It bites you, you die. Then there’s “another snake”, the Scarlet King snake. It’s completely harmless, but one has red, yellow and black bands, and the other snake also has red, yellow and black bands. So if you see these two snakes, you’ll say, “Geez, I can’t tell those apart. They both look like the poisonous snake.” And hence, the non-poisonous snake, by being isomorphic, that is similar to copying, the poisonous snake gains all of the survival value of actually being poisonous with none of the bother. “I don’t have to have fangs. I don’t have to have poison. I don’t have to have glands that produce poison. I get the benefit of being a poisonous snake just by looking sufficiently like another poisonous snake.”
So, what happens, and sociologists of organization have picked up on this notion of isomorphism and pointed out that lots of organizations need legitimacy to survive. But if they can get legitimacy just by looking like another organization that is functional, then they can benefit from isomorphism. So, everywhere you go in the world, you’ll encounter policemen. In many countries, the police force is deeply corrupt. But in every country, the police force wears uniforms. The police force looks like a police force nearly everywhere you go. Even if it isn’t serving any of the function of the police force and the projection of the organizational structures and uniforms of functional police forces gives legitimacy to a process that actually is relying exclusively on projecting the form without the function.