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3.3 Methods for Researching Company Mythology

It is necessary to think of some points of argument to research the company mythology. The first point is the text of the myths. Many myths have been orally passed down, and it is not easy to identify the text. The company mythology exists in various forms, and it is not easy to acquire the text of many myths. Some were just passed down as episodes without making it into texts. In some cases, only fragmented facts are spoken.

On the other hand, some companies textualize their myths with a definite intention. When Kinki Nippon Tourist Co., Ltd. asked writer Saburō Shiroyama to render its company history in the form of a novel, the novel itself became its company mythology. The novel consisted of a series of episodes that took place at the time of the founding. As the company was a pioneer in the travel agency business, the novel presented examples of how to locate management problems within the business and of behavioral guidelines for attending to customers. To this day, after the company merged with Nippon Tourist, the novel is still read by tour conductors and gives moral support to them especially when they feel overwhelmed by demands from their customers.

What makes the company mythology different from any ethnic mythologies is that the content of the former is often deliberately edited to ensure legitimacy of the power of the community. As a result, information presented at the website becomes the text of the myth. In short, when introducing one's own company, mythological statements and remarks are created in the process of explaining the background and principles of its founding. Therefore, it is possible to interpret the mythological statements (Nakamaki 2007: 76–81). However, it is necessary to carefully judge whether it was officially edited and whether it can be treated similarly to oral tradition within the organization.

Furthermore, as an information transmission measure of companies, company museums draw the same kind of attention as their websites. Also exhibited at company museums are the social meanings held by the industries to which the companies belong. We can see many messages deriving from the social nature of such industries displayed at the museums. The research group of the anthropology of administration has already conducted a study on company museums (Nakamaki and Hioki 2003) and points out that most of them are museums about their industries rather than about their own companies. The study also reveals that surprisingly few museums honor specific individuals publicly for their notable achievements. However, the messages provided by the museums are associated with the formation of company myths and can be regarded as effective texts.

Researchers collect oral myths by way of interviewing, but it is necessary to confirm whether or not the information they get is common in the community. In this sense, it might be necessary to examine whether or not it is possible to use the “ordinary people concept” advocated by Kunio Yanagita. From the very beginning of our study on the anthropology of administration through joint research, we have regarded salaried workers as the “ordinary people of today.” In other words, ordinary people of traditional communities thought they could understand the typical model of the community if they asked their senior members who had been living there for a long time, because the norms became widespread within the community. Also, non-ordinary people could understand why they were not ordinary, so it was hardly necessary to conduct a large-scale statistical survey.

Salaried workers are also requested to behave according to the norms of the organization. In this sense, they accept a typical manner of ordinary people as the organizational code. If the myths which form the basis of the organizational code are accepted together with the organizational code, it seems to be possible to extract even orally transmitted myths if appropriate interviewees are selected. However, myths won't simply converge in a single statement, because a member's life does not transpire exclusively within the company and various other factors are at play.

This leads to an argument of whether myths can be controlled or not. An organization can exercise coercive force over its members and can control what they say within the organization. However, it is difficult to prevent unofficial statements from spreading behind official texts. In the case that the statements spread unofficially are about something sacred for the group, the statements that function to deny the unofficial statements are considered as politics. Probably a lot of politics are generated between statements in real companies. It is normal that what is deemed sacred for the managing side is quite different from what is deemed sacred for the managed side of staff members. It is considered that politics exists between the two sides.

It is theoretically possible to understand some examples within a framework between the movement to form myths and the opposite movement. However, it is actually difficult to obtain this kind of dynamics in real time. Nevertheless, it is necessary to consider in advance that this kind of politics exists, for thinking about the company mythology, and we have to make it the premise that there can be various interpretations behind the official texts.

In this sense, we have to recall that myths have been edited. Myths are edited because they must be consistent with the current situation of the organization. Especially in a founding myth, as it normally shows the company's mission, editing is sometimes necessary when business policies change or a managing director is replaced. We should bear in mind that in the study of the company mythology, this kind of editing is conducted and that myths change from moment to moment.

For example, at the Matsushita Memorial Library, which is dedicated to Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic, his management concept is exhibited, but his “tap water philosophy” is not included there. The tap water philosophy refers to a situation in which abundant things overflow like tap water. Matsushita claimed to make this philosophy his company's mission before World War II. It is a delicate issue whether this philosophy is still included in Panasonic's concept. The philosophy was not exhibited in 2002 at the Matsushita Memorial Library because it was likely to cause misunderstanding today when resources and environmental issues are raised. We understand the company's caution not to create an unfavorable image such as throwing things away and wasteful spending. However, it is doubtful whether we can talk about Konosuke Matsushita without talking of the tap water philosophy, when we think of the attributes of the Library. The Library is managed by the Matsushita Foundation for Social Science Promotion and not directly managed by Panasonic. It is unclear whether this judgment was made independently by Panasonic-affiliated organizations or through consensus within the Panasonic Group, but some sort of politics must have transpired.

According to the company's environmental report of 2000, the founder assembled all employees at the Central Electric Club in Osaka on May 5, 1932, and announced the company's new mission. “The mission of a manufacturer is to overcome poverty by producing an abundant supply of goods. No one objects if a passerby drinks from a roadside tap. That is because the supply of water is plentiful and its price is low. The mission of a manufacturer is to create material abundance by providing goods as plentiful and inexpensive as tap water. This is how we can banish poverty, bring happiness to people's lives and make this world into a paradise.” This is the so-called tap water philosophy. He then announced a 250-year plan for the company to fulfill its mission and decided to establish this day as the company's foundation day, marking the company's entry into its true business. Tap water flows into rivers, then to oceans, and evaporates to become clouds. Eventually it rains and moistens all living creatures. I feel that we have entered a new era when we have to seek a new shape of industry where water circulates indefinitely, while inheriting the true meaning of “tap water philosophy” (Panasonic 2000 Environmental Report, panasonic.co.jp/eco/env_data/back_number/pdf/2000pdf.pdf).

Here, the range of abundance is expanded from the image of abundant water, converted to water circulation, and edited to reflect affluence accompanied with the environmental friendliness of material circulation. We can say the tap water philosophy was revived as a Panasonic management principle. Thus, while myths are reinterpreted, edited, and changed, they have an unaltered domain at their core. Interpretation of this message becomes a basis for analyzing the company mythology.

 
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