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Chapter 3 Company Mythology

Koichiro Hioki and Hirochika Nakamaki

Abstract Company mythologies relate to contemporary narratives, its characters, settings, developments, and endings. Company management is often associated with something mysterious. When people tell how the livelihood community is formed and exists in the world, a mythological system is employed. Contemporary company is no exception. The founder of Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita, is even identified as a “god of management.” The company itself is also surrounded by many “myths” which are created, demystified, and revived. In this chapter, three types of mythology are discussed, namely, the founding myth, the hero myth, and the brand myth. By regarding company as a cultural community or livelihood community, statements shared by the community members can be analyzed from the perspective of mythology.

3.1 Introduction

Mythology surely exists in companies, too. The word “mythology” brings to mind stories of ancient gods and goddesses, such as in Greek mythology, Roman mythology, and Japanese mythology. The Book of Genesis in the Old Testament is another example. Companies, however, also have myths concerning the origins of their businesses and founders, which are described in their company histories and websites.

Myths are not simply defined as stories of gods and goddesses, and it is difficult to distinguish myths from folktales and legends. Mythologist Kazuo Matsumura suggests that myths be defined as narratives in which the characters, settings, developments, and endings defy logical understanding, both immediately and in the long term (Matsumura 2000: 165, 2010: 42). They are a manner of speaking that manages to explain things that cannot be explained in normal language (Matsumura 2010: 25) or a method of communicating images that cannot be sufficiently expressed through ordinary language (Matsumura 2010: 42). In short, myths are mysterious stories which convey supra-linguistic images.

Because company mythology relates to contemporary narratives, its characters, settings, developments, and endings are more concrete and clearer than in any ancient myths and can be easily understood by staff members. However, that is just a superficial aspect; the essence of the story may never be understood, though it likely communicates an abundant range of images.

Actually, company management is often associated with something mysterious. Among many excellent corporate managers, why has only Konosuke Matsushita been called the “god of management”? Why did the “god of management” have to establish a religious facility, Kongensha, [1] and an organization named the “Matsushita Institute of Government and Management” to foster talented politicians? These questions cannot be answered by the company history or the website. The statements contained in the “Matsushita Konosuke myth” and the “National myth” (from the former corporate name) or the image of the “god of management” may provide us with perfect clues for thinking about the nature of the company mythology. Now under “Panasonic myth” crowned with the new company name, what sort of fate will Konosuke Matsushita as a god follow from now on? Will it be a revival of the myth or a demythification? We anthropologists of administration cannot ignore such questions.

  • [1] A shrine where the origin of the cosmos is worshiped as a god. It imitates the Grand Shrine of Ise in shape and is located in the garden of Shinshin-an, Matsushita's private house in Kyoto, in the head-office building of the PHP Research Institute and in the Forest of Matsushita Business Establishment in the Panasonic headquarters. Research on Kongensha has also been conducted from the perspective of the anthropology of administration (Nakamaki 1992: 66–69, 2004: 102– 104; Mitsui 2010: 10–11)
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