The Myth of the Founder

Many of us are obsessed with business founders. Specifically, what sets them apart from the rest of us? Is drive, vision, or a special insight that helps them change entire industries seemingly over night and seem to pull millions and even billions of dollars in profit from thin air? Or is it simpler, is it how they run meetings or make decisions? Is it because the take cold showers, are vegan and meditate under the full moon?

Founders fill a usual space in our culture where in they are guru, eccentric, celebrity and sometimes even comic book villain.

And why should they not? Jeff Bezos completely changed how we shop and how the internet works. Similarly, Mark Zuckerburg changed the way we communicate forever and now sways public discourse. Meanwhile Elon Musk can skyrocket the currency of a meme with a single tweet all while being in a literal space race with Jeff Bezos.

So of course, if you could become one of them, wouldn’t we? Or at the least figure out who the next one will be and invest.

These are the reasons the myths about founders are so powerful. Their stories become a filter for who gets investment capital to start companies and someone we can model ourselves after to replicate their success.

The Power of Storytelling

Human beings have always been storytellers. We’ve used stories to bring ourselves together, to explain what then could not be explained and to inspire ourselves to be better than we are. Beyond this kind of storytelling we all tell our inner-selves’ stories. Our subconscious and conscious selves select facts and experiences from the stream of life to create a narrative that informs who we, the protagonists, are.

If this is beginning to feel a little Jungian, you aren’t far off. Stories can shape people and those people help sculpt the groups of which they are a part. Many great leaders throughout history have been storytellers. President Lincoln, for example, in the Emancipation Proclamation described an American in which all men truly were created equal. FDR in his fire-side chats described an American ideal for all citizens to live up to.
A leader’s unspoken inner narrative (those of the subconscious that are not often verbalized) are part of what create the shape of an organization and influences its team members.

These stories drive our decision-making process and ultimately our actions. This is the lens through which we see and analyze anything from a customer’s reaction to our products or services and through which we decided whether or not to hire a new team member.

If a leader tells themselves stories about unrealistically positive future this is in turn what their team will believe. Likewise, if a leader’s inner narrative only blames others for the failures of an organization their team will also follow these kinds of stories when analyzing their own and other’s behavior. If a leader’s inner stories are only filled with strife and failure this will affect the leader and the team’s ability to perform.

The wisdom here is not to try and use or misuse narrative, but to understand that the human mind needs coaching to be objective. Leaders should try and recognize how their inner narrative is filters and distorts everything the mind takes in.