Myths of Business Lie Underneath Our Decisions

There are a great many assumptions and conventional wisdom about business. There is an interesting critique on Strategy and Business by Betty Sue Flowers. She describes many of them as myths.


Stop for a moment and think about images you think of when you think about business? Some of us may think of the entrepreneur who started their business in their garage and goes on to create a company that dominates its industry. Or maybe the company that found a product serendipitously and became a household name. Gordon Gecko, a character in Wall Street is another image that comes to mind.

Myths are stories that explain a phenomenom about our world. They explain “why” and give us language when the concept is complex. They contain a message that has an important meaning. The archetypes and stories we tell about business are just as much myths as the stories told by ancient civilizations.

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We don’t always pay attention to what’s underneath our choices

Myths are part of our belief systems and our lexicon. Betty Sue Flowers, in this Strategy + Business post by Art Kleiner, describes business myths and how they influence our decision making. Flowers identifies 5 myths that underlie business decisions:

  • Economics-growth is the goal
  • Ecology-part of an overall interconnected system
  • Heroic-search for the win
  • Religious (not necessarily based on any particular tradition)-creating goodness
  • Scientific-truth is found through reason

These are very strong stories with a powerful influence. According to Flowers, when we are unaware of could be driving our decisions, we could shut down an opposing view as unacceptable or inappropriate, even when we need the other perspective or information to avoid potential problems.

Nutty stuff organizations do when under the influence

Flowers has multiple stories in the post about how people within organizations have maintained a decision regardless if it met any sort of commonsense test. It’s noteworthy that the myths aren’t bad or harmful in and of themselves. According to Flowers, problems arise when there is a lack of awareness or that one myth predominates the organizational culture. So, it is entirely possible for an entire industry to pursue over-valued products, as in a bubble, due to the economic or heroic myths. It may even be due to a myth that a business will maintain certain bureaucratic policies that are obstructionist.

In the end, people are making decisions based on this business mythology. Pursuing growth or adopting corporate social responsibility are two possible tracks that may be chosen due to unacknowledged acceptance of certain myths. They form a shorthand in our thinking. Much of what we do in business has a complexity to it and having language to describe it can serve an important purpose. However, acting as if the stories are always true could cut both ways-supporting success and profitability or encouraging bad decision-making and dysfunctional workplaces…If only we acknowledge the myths we are telling one another.

How do you see business myths manifested in the workplace?

What myths would you say are subscribed to the most and why?

How could conflicting myths affect decision making?

How could the myths change/evolve in our highly connected world?

What could increase awareness of specific myths?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.