The key to unlocking your optimum personal performance in the business world is the capacity to move and operate beyond your perceived limitations and obstacles. But what about the company as a whole? Are corporate mythologies disabling company performance?

When I worked at British Gas, the new CEO created a new senior role: The Director of Myth Busting. The person appointed had a legal background and was given a precise mandate. When the energy supplier market first opened to competition, British Gas was for obvious reasons in a strong market position, having been the monopoly provider previously. 

As a result, the appointed regulator set out some specific obligations and conditions on British Gas to ensure consumers were protected and competition was encouraged. These requirements became part of the corporate mythology of the company over the years, and they were often referred to as a limitation when setting strategy or making critical business decisions.

The CEO wasn’t convinced. 

He created the new role to go through the operating licence, line by line, to separate truth from mythology. The Director of Mythology uncovered a series of false assumptions, misunderstandings, and outdated ideas about what we could and couldn’t do as a company. And the impact on the company’s ability to move in new directions and take advantage of opportunities was massive. 

It reminds me of something I read about elephant training. 

When young elephants are ‘domesticated’, they are tied to a stake by a rope around their foot, keeping them from wandering off and limiting their movement. When the elephant is used to their limited range, they stop resisting and pulling at the stake. Once they have learned this behaviour, it stays with them even when they become fully grown (and more than capable of pulling the stake out the ground).

What are the shared mythologies in your company that stop you from taking specific courses of action? 

I hear them all the time from business leaders:

  • We tried taking on a salesperson, and it didn’t work
  • We tried online marketing and got no leads
  • It doesn’t work like that in this industry
  • If I get rid of that person, I’ll never find a replacement
  • We don’t believe in borrowing money etc.

What might be possible for you if these were no longer true, and what could you do to test the edges of what is truth and fiction? You never know; you may find that the stake comes out of the ground a lot easier than you thought.