Corporate Creation Myths, and Why We Need Them

Why do Americans need to attach creation myths to everything, including the origins of our most visible business ventures? We idealize the lone inventor over the company man, the garage over the office space. We tell the story of Apple Computer not as that of two former Atari and Hewlett-Packard employees launching their own product, but two starry-eyed inventors in a garage, building a dream from scratch.

youtube founders

This American Life host Ira Glass put the question to Fast Company columnist Dan Heath earlier this morning, and his answer reveals a lot about our business culture. When we don’t have a garage, we make up something else, like the widely believed (and now discredited) story about YouTube’s founding: According to myth, founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley planted the seed for YouTube while trying unsuccessfully to upload video they’d taken at a dinner party to the Web. The story, the founders have since said, is largely embellished. As Heath says:

“While it feels like a little bit of a let down to realize that this dinner party story is not the whole truth, I feel like it’s a little bit unfair for us to expect more of them than the creation of YouTube. Here’s this incredible site, and in some sense that’s not enough for us. We want YouTube to have emerged from some kind of everyday experience. It’s not enough to have the value of their work, we also want there to be a really compelling story that started it.”

Listen to the entire broadcast of This American Life here.

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