Leadership

Our Mismanagement of Myth Management

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High-tech has always been shrouded in mythology. The most prevalent myth relates to startups. It goes like this: A socially awkward, college dropout can start a company in a garage, take it public and become a master of the universe. Everyone has heard this myth. Lots of people believe it.

Is it true? Well, at least the myth is based on observable phenomena.

After all, founders of super successful companies appear to really exist. True it’s hard to spot them. Kind of like playing “Where’s Waldo” at a nerd convention. But sometimes there are actual sightings – especially if you know where to look. Some founders have even been photographed!

Unfortunately, a different myth has recently engulfed high tech – the unicorn. You might recall it from fairy tales or folklore. It’s a mythical white creature that looks like a horse or goat with a single horn protruding from its head. And this horn is supposed to possess magical powers. In high tech lingo, “unicorn” now refers to a startup company valued at more than one billion dollars.

Coined several years ago, the term epitomizes the current mythology of high tech. Investors want to find an imaginary animal that lives at the end of the rainbow so it can lead them to a pot of gold. Actually, this isn’t so surprising. Only in Silicon Valley do eye exam charts have a top line with the letter “I.” And a second line with “P” and “O.”

But I digress…

In my humble opinion, the unicorn is the wrong myth for high tech. Unlike the myth of the garage-based startup founder, the unicorn animal is completely make-believe. It has no basis in observable phenomena. Unicorns don’t exist, have never existed and, unless the regulation of genetic engineering gets extremely lax, will never exist.

So what is the appropriate mythical creature? One word: Bigfoot.

There are many reasons why Bigfoot should replace the unicorn in the mythology of high tech. First, Bigfoot is the perfect symbol for a hairy business. Second, Bigfoot tries to avoid human contact – just like socially awkward tech founders. Third, Bigfoot comes in more colors than just white. And most important, unlike unicorns, Bigfoot is based on observable phenomena. It’s actually sighted on occasion and sometimes even photographed!

The point is that high tech mythology needs to be carefully managed. Talking about unicorns sends the wrong symbolic message: High tech is all white people trying to work magic by tooting their own horns. (Granted, there are plenty of those people in Silicon Valley…)

What’s wrong with that picture? Well, everything! High tech is actually a diverse, multi-cultural industry. And its mythology should reflect its true nature. So let’s get away from talking about unicorns. Bigfoot is the mythical creature you want to find. Because like Bigfoot, high-tech founders and venture capitalists leave their footprints everywhere, but you can never see them – especially if you want funding. And whether you create a company with a value of a billion dollars or one worth only millions, successful high-tech executives will always have big shoes to fill.

 

Malcolm Kushner, “America’s Favorite Humor Consultant,” is the author of the award-winning “The Little Book of Humorous Quotes,” “Comebacks for Lawyer Jokes,” and “Presentations For Dummies,” which has sold over 100,000 copies. An internationally acclaimed expert on humor and communication, Kushner has been profiled in TIME magazine, USA Today, The New York Times and The Washington Post. A popular speaker at corporate and association meetings, Kushner has spoken everywhere from the Smithsonian Institution to the Inc. 500 Conference. For more information, visit http://www.kushnergroup.com or http://www.museumofhumor.com or contact him at mk@kushnergroup.com

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