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3.4 Types of Myths

There are three main types of company mythology. They are founding myths, hero legends, and brand myths.

The founding myth is a counterpart of a creation myth at the level of an ethnic people. It explains not only the background of how a company was established, but also its founding concept and legitimacy of power inside the organization. By teaching why the world exists and how the world is structured, it offers people a common recognition of the world.

In most cases, the company concept is clearly described in the background of how the company was founded. A myth is created through the handing down and explanation of why the company was established, the purposes of the company, and the business vision of its founder as a leader. In reality, only few business plans set forth at the founding time are realized without change, and most of them seem to need significant revision. However, they are supported by a consistent after-the-fact explanation and revision, and as a result they are edited to become a consistent statement.

In regard to foundation myths, there exist statements so-called restoration myths which describe new developments after the foundation. Such developments include taking over the operation of an established company and diversifying it or reorganizing a crisis-ridden company. To take Suntory as an example, the myth about founder Shinjirō Torii is overlapped by a myth about Keizō Saji, the second president. The founder established Kotobukiya to import goods from Europe and the United States, then developed Akadama port wine and Sumoka toothpaste as import substitutes, and further tried to manufacture whisky. Subsequently, the second president, Keizō Saji, established whisky in Japan by advocating whisky with water, then in addition started manufacturing beer, and thereby changed the company into a general beverage manufacturer. Through this process, various statements were issued, which eventually came to function as company mythology. It is notable that some writers, including Takeshi Kaikō and Hitomi Yamaguchi, gathered at the subsidiary company called San Ado, which was in charge of Kotobukiya's advertisement and PR, and that they wrote about the two managers of Kotobukiya. What they wrote has had an effect both within and outside of the company.

Keizō Saji, who went into the family business after his eldest brother died young, took over Kotobukiya's whiskey-oriented operation, and the writers gathered at San Ado wrote about the process of business development. A key factor to make Shinjirō Torii's achievement and Keizō Saji's behavior into a myth was that talented storytellers were recruited. Both Takeshi Kaikō and Hitomi Yamaguchi were popular writers. Therefore, their words and deeds attracted attention and were transmitted to the outside world. Their statements spread inside and outside of the organization. Thus, the mission of Suntory as a company has widely been conveyed. Furthermore, it may be pointed out that the myth has been expanding secondarily through literary appraisals of the writers and their works. For example, the critical biography of Hitomi Yamaguchi by Kodama (2009) gives an account of Yamaguchi as a salaried worker. As a result, it helps to amplify the Suntory mythology. Suntory's founding myth expanded to become a mythology including the restoration myth.

The second type of mythology is hero legends or hero myths, which include statements about individuals who made considerable achievements in the companies they belong to. Anyone other than a founder can become the object of a hero legend, but it is characterized by the fact that no statement about the establishment of community is included. Even if it functions to strengthen a worldview shared by the community, it does not particularly change the worldview itself. A statement which praises somebody's achievements in the same large framework can be regarded as a hero legend.

Hero legends are not limited to top-level executives. When someone, regardless of occupation, makes a significant contribution to the company after its establishment, the contribution is handed down in the organization to become a legend. A good example of this is the case in which an extremely significant new product was developed. In fact, various episodes about a Nobel Prize winner, Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu, have been reported. Any Nobel Prize winner is eligible to be a hero, but on one level or another, heroes exist in various forms. On the issue of research and development, NHK's program, “Project X,” was conceptualized as a way to discover unknown product development personnel. It might be a rare case that heroes are discovered by media coverage, but once picked up in the program, the story functions as a myth within the company.

Heroes include not only those who have contributed greatly to their communities, but also those who substantially deviate from their company norms. Among mythical heroes, there is a type of character called a trickster. A trickster is an ambiguous being that embodies contradicting values, such as good and evil, at the same time. In some companies, accounts of those who greatly deviate from the organizational norms are orally transmitted. This type is called a negative hero. A tradition called Akutarō (naughty boy) legend, which is handed down within an organization, can be regarded as a community myth which is similar to that of the trickster.

A specific example is Shuji Nakamura who developed blue diode at Nichia and won the Nobel Prize in 2014. He himself noted that he had joined no company dinner bashes, attended no meetings, and answered no telephones within the company (Nakamura 2002). Such a person is likely to be whispered about in a company as an employee who is out of line and has no common sense. If he becomes part of the oral tradition, his behavior as well as his achievements will likely be conveyed as a myth.

Legends and myths are not clearly distinguishable. However, as it is possible to lump them together within the framework of mythification of legends, we can apply the concept of “hero myth” to either one.

The third type of mythology is the brand myth. When a company is engaged in production and its products themselves become a defining presence within the company, not only specific individuals but the products themselves may be made into a myth. This is the origin of a brand myth. Value consciousness to attach sacredness to a brand means a strong commitment to its own products. The efforts to improve quality and to obtain a very good reputation from consumers will lead to the creation of a myth.

A brand was originally created when almost all products made in bulk had a certain level of quality. Consequently, consumers do not have to check the quality of each individual item to negotiate a price with distributers. They can trust and purchase the branded products. With tightening competition, companies become more concerned about their brand management.

So-called celebrity brands exist. Luxury brands exist not only in fashions, but also in watches and bags, and their myths are formed differently from ordinary brand myths. It is natural that the structure is different between the normal brands for the public and the celebrity brands only for limited higher-class people. However, as the society gets richer, the celebrity brands have widely spread to the public. Today, there is little difference between the two types of brands. The products with the celebrity brands were originally used by kings and aristocrats, but also they were full of various myths.

For example, Louis Vuitton was initially a carrier, and his major business was to transport luggage to summer resorts in France when going on a vacation became customary. At this time, the custom began among the members of the upper class, and he was requested to transport the utensils used in their daily lives to resorts. Therefore, he made trunks to contain and transport individual utensils just as they were, such a tea set used on a regular basis. Vast numbers of trunks were manufactured such that they could be opened by a single key and all keys were registered by each customer.

Under this situation, transportation in itself by Vuitton was regarded as a form of prestige, and a symbol to show prestige was drawn on the trunks. That was a prototype of Vuitton bags of the present age. Added to the high quality was something else, namely, sign consumption as described by Baudrillard (1970). What gives meaning to a sign is myth. Normal brands created as a result of higher quality are not given myths at the beginning. Myths are formed in various ways and gradually obtain sacredness.

From this perspective it may be recognized that company mythology functions not only within companies, but sometimes leaks to the outside. Both foundation myths and hero legends seem to operate within companies, but effective myths become well-known outside companies, which seems to further enhance the effectiveness of the myths. Brand myths started to appeal to consumers, so they are not effective if they remain solely within the companies. A characteristic feature of company myths is that they are well-known among people outside the company as well; their statements exert an influence both within and outside the community.

 
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