Corporate stories

Should internal narratives, and the philosophies they generate, be among the guarded proprietary info within a company1? The stories the company tells the outside world are more about marketing and serving a purpose. Not those stories.

In particular, the stories the company tells itself to generate the culture and conditions for its success (or not). How it really happened, and what does that mean for where the company is now? They’re not exactly running to the press to tell the story2.

Te scar tissue, what caused it, how that’s reflected in the process today? That’s guarded info, not eagerly shared in blog posts and conference talks. At least, not the entire truth.

Granted, many stories are used for building an image and marketing. To investors, competitors, potential hires, professional communities, etc. Or even to help teams internalize the purpose and goal of what they’re building today.

There’s a term for the people who’ve been around to witness these events and craft these stories — the old guard. They’re almost literally guarding the stories or narrative, but also guarding the way of working that made those stories a success.

These stories are often divorced from the reality of how the much bigger company now operates!

Narrative is powerful. Makes sense to guard it3. Both for alignment, but also for preserving myths that hold that purpose up. Myths that come from true stories. Myths that were constructed/embellished for marketing or aiming throughout the company’s existence.

Tall tales and fables by the campfire: now for corporations, too!

  1. Depending on the company, losing this information is a crisis, possibly existentially:

    1. Data, esp. customer lists

    2. Source code

    3. How it really happened/what that means

    Surprisingly, not all of this has the best access control. Most companies choose productivity over secrecy. Theories of friction, agency, and firms being what they are, etc. ↩︎

  2. e.g. Musk would very much like everyone to forget he didn’t start Tesla. ↩︎

  3. Hence, how far venture capitalists and cryptocurrency/AI/hype-cycle founders will go to nudge narratives to suit their needs and away from what the technology actually does, cannot do, or is intended to do. ↩︎

Adam Keys @therealadam