Epic vs Clarity
A couple of weeks ago, preparing some material for a storytelling session, I re-watched some episodes of Game of Thrones, a true narrative gem. In the story told by the series, the main dynasties of a faraway land are mired in several intrigues and sagnant battles to get (or keep) the throne while, on the other side of a colossal wall located in the farthest north, something disturbing and devastating is growing. Although as the story progresses certain voices warn of the threat, the epic struggle for the throne kills the clarity of the evidence that something terrible is going to happen if nobody puts an end to it. The plot of Game of Thrones is very easy to transfer to the momentum that a large number of organisations have been experiencing for some time now (even well before 2020): the epic kills clarity.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the epic. I am an arts person, I studied ancient Greek & Latin in high school and I knew by heart paragraphs of the Odyssey and the Iliad, quintessential of this type of narrative. The dramatic and intense heroic tales immediately captivate the reptilian brain of the audience. The epic, in fact, is a genre as old as the art of storytelling itself, which is something that, as Yuval Noah Harari explains so well in Sapiens, humans have been doing for 70,000 years. In adequate doses, the epic feeds advertising, cinema, art, literature or corporate communications. The only (and terrible) problem with the epic is its overuse, since the grandiloquence and brilliance of the story subjugates our brain so much that it makes us lose all clarity about the real facts. Nowadays, the epic is out of hand and has become part of our daily lives. Unfortunately, its brilliance might blind us to the obvious and it will make us justify what our logic would not ever justify.
Organisationally speaking, the epic makes a startup believe that the glory is to raise a certain amount of money in an investment round, when in reality there are other ways to grow without falling into the siren song that represents the mantra “scale up, scale up, scale up”. The supposed glory of raising money blinds the evidence that, very often, getting an investment and expanding is not going to mean thriving or that your business is sustainable. In fact, it often marks the beginning of the end: when startups receive the new funds, they start to grow in a reckless way and they forget their initial value proposition. When it happens, the countdown begins.
In case of big corporations, the epic makes them believe that their reality is determined by their organizational charts, their structures, their P&L and the headlines that the specialized press may write about it. If one succumbs to this epic, the organization becomes a kind of centrifuge where all its elements spin rapidly and without reaching a specific place, just looking at the navel of the company. The epic keeps the centrifuge running and prevents the organization from seeing what lies beyond the spinning it is doing. When, out there, some element appears that alters the scenario, it will find the organization spinning like a top. It will be a while before the company becomes aware of the real situation and can clearly gauge the scope of it. And then it may already be too late.
In all aspects, then, the epic can create delirious stories that come to justify absurd decisions that, if we were to apply logic, we would see that they make no sense. Without going any further, the other day I found out about some awards that, in order to apply, you have to pay. Their story is so well put together and appeals to such basic emotions that every year hundreds of candidates sign up (after paying for their candidacy, of course) and proudly share it in their social media. Such is the magnitude of the tragedy.
It is time then to ask ourselves, as human beings inhabiting the world of the 21st century and with more access than ever to sources of knowledge, what it really brings us that our reptilian brain is an eternal slave of the epic. Hopefully critical thinking will help us to use the epic to enjoy it with clarity, not to succumb to it.