Sunday, September 3, 2017

Myths and mystics

In the awesome book "Sapiens", author Yuval Harari posits three revolutions for mankind, the first of which is the "cognitive revolution" which he dates from about 70,000 years ago.

What's really important about the advent of cognition is that h.sapiens developed the ability to imagine the non-existent -- that is, the stuff that has no physical reality. Harari more or less calls all that stuff "myths".

Myths require:
  • Someone to imagine them; and 
  • Someone to sell them to the uninformed; and 
  • The uninformed have to become believers and users and maintainers
In project parlance, myths require:
  • A visionary
  • A sales and marketing strategy
  • Managers, practitioners, and users
 A marketing guy I worked with many years ago, long before Harari wrote his book, instructed me in the art of myth-making, the value of being mystic, and the value of encapsulation so that others couldn't see the sausage being made.

My marketing mentor asserted that myth was a force multiplier, adding power and influence. I agree. Just look around at the 'trapping' that attend power--some call it the arrogance of power .... all intended to multiply that power.

Not arrogant? Not powerful.

But in the competitive project space, myths attend competitors -- are they really 10 feet tall, and should we go up against them, or not?

There is a larger consequence, however, that I found fascinating in Harari's telling of the cognitive revolution:
  • Cognition of non-real things, like organization and social structure, behavior norms, and beliefs -- even if not realizable, enabled large scale socialization among strangers and mechanisms of command and control that extends far beyond any personal relationship.
  • Harari asserts that one person can have personal effective interaction with up to 150 people. Up to that limit, organizations can be totally flat, informal, almost structureless. To get beyond the 150 limit, you need myths and mythology that enable the unreal.
  • With myths, you can have world-wide religious beliefs, large corporations, continental governments, etc. 
  • Thus, societies, and to a lesser extent, projects can scale almost limitlessly44
What a concept! Myths -- you've got to love it!

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