International Crisis Group: Myths as a vehicle for transforming organizations


Explores how myths represent reality in the minds of organizational members of what the organization was, is, and can be. Applies the construct of a mythograph to trace the past transformation journey of the studied organization, which provides a context for envisioning the future journey. Illustrates how a typical modern organization can be stuck in a reductionistic model. Closes with the discussion on how evolution of organizational consciousness is fundamental to organizational transformation that is made possible by using myths as a vehicle.ResearchGate Logo


Explores how myths represent reality in the minds of organizational members of what

the organization was, is, and can be. Applies the construct of a mythograph to trace the pas

transformation journey of the studied organization, which provides a context for envisioning the

future journey. Illustrates how a typical modern organization can be stuck in a reductionistic

model. Closes with the discussion on how evolution of organizational consciousness is fundamental

to organizational transformation that is made possible by using myths as a vehicle.

Symbols and metaphors play a crucial role in any kind of transformation,

whether individual, group, organizational, or social. Because they appeal to the

nonrational and emotional side of human beings, they impact on the deeper aspects of human consciousness (Schuyt and Schuijt, 1998). The significance of symbolism is articulated in the work of Carl Jung on the unconscious. Though

Jung’s notion of personal unconscious is similar to Freud’s definition of the

subconscious, it is his construct of collective unconscious and its relation to

symbolism that is of particular relevance to understanding organizational

transformation. As Jenner (2000, p. 25) states:

Jung regarded the collective unconscious as a vast mental universe that contains a

constellation of patterns that he called archetypes, or symbols…. These archetypal symbols,

which are a form of instinct, appear spontaneously from the depth of the unconscious, as Jung

says, “pregnant with meaning”, and provide a sense of purpose or direction for the flow of

psychic energy.

The shamanic perspective on consciousness also examines the individual and

collective meaning making within the symbolic world of reality through

cognitive analysis of symbols such as the artifacts, myths, and creations of a

community’s culture (Frost and Egri, 1994). Arrien (1993), claiming that

alienation can result from the use of private symbols, argues that relearning the

ways of our ancestors and returning to our mythological roots can alleviate the

alienation process and renew our human psyche, which is the source of all

personal and cultural myths.

Noting that “myths, legends and folktales are important sources of

transformational metaphors and symbols”, Metzner (1998, p. 8) draws an

important distinction between symbol and metaphor. A symbol is an object or

thing that connects or links two disparate elements in our psyche and can

induce or catalyze changes in our worldview, while a metaphor is a process that

The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at




Received March 2003

Revised May 2003

Accepted July 2003

The Leadership & Organization

Development Journal

Vol. 25 No. 1, 2004

pp. 41-57

qEmerald Group Publishing Limited


DOI 10.1108/01437730410512769

enables us to transfer meaning from one domain to the other. For example, a

tree can be a symbol of a human being, whereas the growth of the tree would be

a metaphor for the growth of the human being. Metzner further elaborates on

the role of symbols and metaphors in transformation of consciousness:

Symbols and metaphors, then, function in the psyche as connecting links between states and

levels of consciousness, bridging different domains of reality. They serve to elucidate the

structures and functions of consciousness while we are undergoing both ordinary and

extraordinary transformations.

Morgan (1986) also observes that metaphors allow us to understand one

element of experience in terms of another, explaining that metaphors can reveal

the complex and paradoxical character of different aspects of an organization

that may coexist.

Significance of organizational myths

Stephens and Eisen (1998, p. 219) highlight the importance of myths in our

day-to-day life:

Myth is the story that we tell to explain the nature of our reality. It is a whole picture

constructed out of the particular pieces of our attitudes and beliefs. Myths become our

touchstones to what is “real” and what is “important”. They encompass the most basic,

fundamental, and ultimate. They are the “truths” to which we look when trying to decide how

we should conduct our lives, what we should actually do, and how we should think and feel.

Gabriel (2000) draws a clear distinction between organizational stories and

myths. He considers stories as lacking the sweeping grandeur, narrative

complexity, or overwhelming emotional charge of myths associated with

ancient and popular mythologies. Myths are seen as unique, unusual, and

improbable whereas stories are based on ordinary events that are likely to bear

repetition. The characters in myths are regarded as true heroes in contrast to

ordinary person next-door characters in stories. Stories are also seen to be

lacking the sacral qualities of myths in terms of not addressing the universal

values, truths, and extremities of life’s realities such as good and evil, human

and divine, and wild and tame.

Boyer (1997) defines organizational myths as stories of specific events that

have occurred in the organization as narrated by ordinary people. They provide

insight into what the organizational life is like. Myths in organizations evolve

as members share stories, sacrificing accuracy to fulfill their own needs

(Taylor, 1999). Not all stories narrated by organizational members qualify to

become myths. It is only when a story is repeatedly narrated by most members

does it qualify to becoming an organizational myth. Though it may not have

the grandeur and complexity associated with ancient mythologies, it generally

relates to a significant event in the life of the organization, which carries with it

the unique experience of members that often is filled with considerable passion

or emotion.




Boje et al. (1982, p. 18) define myth making “as an adaptive mechanism

whereby groups in an organization maintain logical frameworks within

which to attribute meaning to activities and events”. According to Hughes

(1995), myths are buried deep in the consciousness of organizational

members, who defend the organizational practices as the only way to

function effectively and who use the logical frameworks mentioned earlier

to legitimize their behavior. If we accept the notion that we basically

understand the world through narratives, the connection between myths

and sense making becomes clearer. Owen (1993, p. 10) describes myth as

“neither true nor false, but behind truth” and as a story “which gives shape

and focus to Spirit, and makes sense”.

Myths, however, not only enable meaning making in organizations but

also can be used to facilitate organizational transformation. Organizational

transformation here is defined as a process of evolving organizational

consciousness, which involves a fundamental shift in the way

organizational reality is constructed in the minds of organizational

members. Organizational myths, Levy and Merry (1986, p. 83) argue, are “a

useful vehicle for reaching deep organizational levels and for changing

them in a relatively nonthreatening way”. By reflecting on old myths and

creating new ones, the consciousness of people in organizations can be

raised. Myths, thus, can be used in organizations for framing and

reframing reality and developing a shared vision in ways that are likely to

be understood, remembered, and owned (Foster et al., 1999).

In this way, myths and metaphors can bring abstract entities like

organizations to life and mobilize energy for change. In his work, Owen (1985)

looks at organizational transformation as a journey of the Spirit. Spirit is

defined as the flow of energy and attention in an organization that is in search

of a better way to be and manifests itself in an experiential way. Owen uses

organizational mythograph as a way of imaging the Spirit’s journey.

Owen (1993, p. 150) defines a mythograph as a formal representation of the

organization on to which the myths can be plotted. He uses the myths in an

organization to create a mythograph for making sense of the myths and

perceiving the quality and direction of the Spirit within the organization. A

mythograph captures the story of an organization and provides an enabling

mechanism for its enhancement. Owen further elaborates on the purpose and

value of a mythograph:

In analyzing the mythograph, the key thing is to remember that each element (myth)

represents, and in a sense contains, the Spirit of the place, and furthermore, provides

indications of the quality, force and direction of that Spirit. Under ideal circumstances, in a

truly high-performing organization, all cells (each level and sector) would show the same

story, or at least the same story with minor variations appropriate to that level and sector.

That sort of a picture would be indicative of a uniformity of Spirit with the potential for an

unimpeded, powerful flow which may be focused on the tasks on hand, and those that may

come to hand.




Background to the case study

The central question addressed in this study is as follows: How can the process

of organizational transformation be explored, understood and facilitated using

organizational myths as a vehicle? This study was conducted in the Ice Cream

Division (ICD) of XYZ Company (XYZ), an Asian subsidiary of a fast-moving

consumer goods conglomerate and a Fortune 500 transnational business.

Though the parent company’s association with XYZ goes back more than 100

years, ICD is relatively a new business division of XYZ that was set up in 1992.

ICD employs around 100 employees in its main office and regional offices. XYZ

is known for its business ethics and enviable track record of growing its own


ICD was chosen for this study that was conducted in 2000, first, because it

has a reasonably long history for myths to have taken root. Second, the

organization was experiencing a need to transform itself. Third, there was

sufficient interest in and commitment to understanding and facilitating

organizational transformation from the organization’s leadership.

The transnational parent company hired a global consultancy firm in

1992 to advise them on business restructuring. The consultant’s report to the

board of directors had put the ice cream business as the “star” business. An

ambitious strategy was quickly put in place to roll out the ice cream

operations in the developing countries where the parent company had no

presence in this area of business. This strategy was based on a two-pronged

approach of setting up their own factories and acquiring existing local


ICD, following the strategic direction provided by the parent organization,

had begun to acquire other local brands including their manufacturing

facilities. ICD also set up a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and launched

its own international brands. After the take over of local brands and

companies, ICD decided to consolidate all the brands under one umbrella

brand. The sales and distribution systems of the acquired companies were also

harmonized with those in ICD over a period of time.

Despite the heavy investment made in the acquisition of virtually all the

local brands, launching its own international brands, and setting up its own

manufacturing facility, the volume of products sold remained almost stagnant

over a five-year period (1995-1999), and the business continued to experience

losses. While the losses of the business could be attributed to the high

investments made during the early stages of the business, the managers

wondered why they hadn’t succeeded in growing sales volumes, even after

acquiring all the competing local brands.

Research methodology and paradigm

The overarching research methodology that guided this study is integral

inquiry. Integral inquiry considers human experience as multileveled and




pluralistic and as requiring a range of complementary ways of knowing, being,

and expressing. A continuum of research methods, which includes alternate

ways of collecting and analyzing data and of presenting the outcomes of the

inquiry, is chosen, blended, and deployed to suit the main research question

(Braud and Anderson, 1998).

Research paradigms or inquiry paradigms define the boundaries for

carrying out legitimate inquiry. The basic beliefs of inquiry paradigms can

be identified by asking three questions (Guba and Lincoln, 1994). The first

is ontological, asking the nature of reality that can be known; the second

epistemological, asking inquirers how they know what they know; and the

third methodological, asking how inquirers go about finding out whatever

can be known. Rowan and Reason (1981) would add another question, the

nature and quality of the researcher-subject relationship.

Ontologically, the transpersonal research paradigm considers reality as

transcendental and mysterious, as part of an expansive cosmos that is

continually unfolding. The transpersonal research paradigm also emphasizes

the epistemological view of knowing as always a function of being. It holds that

being and knowing are co-constitutive and that being is always shaped by

personal experiences and transformations that occur through personal and

spiritual development. In transpersonal research, the methodological approach

to knowing begins from a position of not knowing. The methodologies adopted

are intended to expand and enlighten the being of participants and to awaken

and transform human consciousness. The nature of the relationship between

the researcher and the participants is founded on the co-creation of meaning

and perspectives. This relationship creates a context for transforming one

another’s consciousness through a dialogical dance (Braud and Anderson,


The transpersonal research paradigm resonates with the scope and aims of

this inquiry. The transcendental and mysterious nature of reality unfolds

through the stories of the organization’s members. The co-constitutive

relationship between being (reality) and knowing (consciousness) is embedded

in the conception of an organization’s mythology and organizational

consciousness. The transpersonal research approach recognizes the organic

nature of the inquiry and opens up possibilities for evolution of organizational

consciousness. The relationship between the researcher and the participants in

the study is co-creative and involves a dialogical dance of meaning making and

of evolving shared perspectives through alternative ways of knowing and

expressing. The data gathered through the methods described below were

analyzed to address the relevant research question. The end purpose of the

analysis was to show how organizational transformation process was explored,

understood, and facilitated using organizational myths as a vehicle.




Discussion with the business head

A discussion was held with the head of the business to obtain an

understanding of his vision of and for the organization. The style adopted in

the discussion was exploratory with the intention to move the conversation

from the level of facts, figures, plans, problems, and possibilities to a level that

described the leader’s essential logic and, even further, his personal vision. The

outcome of this discussion was an understanding of the leader’s personal myth

as it relates to the organization.

Personal interviews

A cross-section of the members of the organization studied was provided

opportunities to narrate their stories about the organization through

unstructured interviews. The actual number of employees interviewed was

13, all selected in consultation with head of the business and other department

managers to ensure that they adequately represented all key segments of the


Unstructured interviews were used to provide a greater breadth for

exploring the myths held by the organizational members. Though the

interviews did get personal, the researcher was only interested in the

organizational myths that emerged from stories repeatedly shared by several


Focus group

Through a focus group, the study explored the organizational myths that

emerged from the personal interviews. Focus groups have been defined as

collective activities (Powell and Single, 1996), planned discussions (Kruegar,

1994), and exploratory research tools (Stewart and Shamdasani, 1990). The

main reason for the use of the focus group method in this study was to draw on

and explore the multiplicity of experiences, beliefs, and perceptions of the

members. The purpose is to conceptualize and validate the story of the

organization in terms of its transformation journey. The focus group consisted

of the organization’s leader, all the interviewees, and a few others who were

interested in being part of the event. The focus group met for a half-day retreat

after the personal interview phase was completed.

Having identified the organizational myths that have become part of the

organizational culture, the challenge was to make sense of these myths by

creating a mythograph. It is useful to think of a mythograph as a formalized

representation of the organization through which the quality of the spirit in its

constituent parts can be identified and described. The mythograph developed

by the researcher was presented to the focus group. The focus group was made

to reflect on the mythograph and the journey of the spirit or the energy flows

that gave rise to the organization’s story. The researcher facilitated the focus

group’s reflection. The reflections shared were systematically collected and




analyzed to identify and describe the beliefs and the assumptions that may

have influenced the organizational transformation thus far.

Organization’s vision

An interview with the business head of ICD was held to obtain his perspective

on the organization’s vision. He identified high-cost structure of the business

and impulsive consumer behavior as major challenges to business growth. He

was quick to point out that the people working in the business probably could

make or break the business. He recognized that the organization had to

empower its people in order to survive and grow and that time was running


Given the history and current situation of ICD, he had set three clear goals

for himself as the head of the business over a three-year period (2000-2002).

First, he wanted the business to stop bleeding by putting a halt to the cash

losses. Second, he expected the business to earn the right to exist by showing a

profit. Third, he intended to make the business healthy through profitable

growth. The main aspects of this vision were also shared with the participants

at the time of commencement of the focus group retreat. A clear sense of

purpose and strong determination were visible behind his humble demeanor

when he elaborated on his vision for ICD:

My vision for this business is to make it a long-term profitable proposition. I see this as a

great challenge over the next three years and appreciate the company’s trust in my ability to

turn around the business and put it on a growth track.

He appreciated that the company’s business vision needs to be married to a

vision for the organizational culture. His vision was to create a culture that

nurtured intrapreneurship, innovation, and empowerment. He further

elaborated that intrapreneurship is about managers managing the

organization’s business as if they own the business. He likes to see his

managers coming up with innovative products and processes and proactively

driving their implementation. He explained this point further by linking his

business vision with the organizational culture:

I like to see that all employees have a sense of belonging to the ice cream business first and

then to their own functional areas or departments. Thinking innovatively and acting

proactively are absolutely essential to inject market growth in an impulse product segment

and under tough market conditions.

The future direction of the business and the kind of organizational culture

required was clear in the business head’s mind. He was not as clear, however,

when it came to how his vision could be realized through people. The

transformation journey facing him could not be facilitated without

understanding ICD’s past transformation journey.




Organizational myths

Organizational myths provide insight into what organizational life is like in

terms of what is “real” and what is “important” and what are the “truths”

within it. These are the beacons that guide members in how they should think

and feel, what they should actually do, and how they should conduct their

organizational lives.

Each of the stories narrated during the personal interviews was assigned a

title based on the central theme of the story. When all the interviews were

completed, a list of story themes was prepared. The stories were clustered into

columns arranged as unique stories, overlapping stories, and common stories.

Unique stories, as the name indicates, are unique to the individual since they

were not narrated by anyone else. Overlapping stories are those that were

narrated by only a few (two or three) participants in the study. Common stories

are those that were narrated by all or most of the participants. The common

stories, by virtue of the fact that most participants shared them spontaneously,

imply that most people in the organization are aware of them. This aspect

qualifies the common stories to be labeled as organizational myths but they

also had to meet with the following criteria to be confirmed as organizational


(1) They describe the experience of most people in the organization related

to a specific event, activity, or action that is regarded as a significant

happening in the life of the organization.

(2) They need not be factually correct as long as they bring to life what

happens in an organization with all the associated passion or emotions.

(3) They define organizational reality in the minds of its members and

enable them to make meaning of the way things are in the organization.

(4) They guide organizational members in the way they should think, act,

and generally conduct themselves.

The other stories that were classified as unique or overlapping stories, though

involved passion or emotion, did not reflect the experience of most people in the

organization and have thus not become part of organization’s consciousness.

They also did not meet the criteria as stated above to be treated as

organizational myths. On the other hand, the organizational myths emerged

naturally from the six stories that were classified as common stories. The

context, spirit, and the language of the stories shared have become part of the

organization’s mythology. They, indeed, guided the way members think, feel,

and act. The anecdotes used within the organizational myths described below

provided space for the voices of the participants and their emotions.

Myth 1: from kitchen to Snow White

This is the story about how the first ice cream in the company was made in the

“kitchen” of the Research Center by three employees who were the first to be




employed for the business and who were assigned to the product development

area. There was no formula or prescription used. It was sheer experimentation,

and the three employees shouted in ecstasy when they saw the Snow White

product emerge from their efforts. Thereafter, the first initiative that emerged

from the business plan was to set up a project titled Snow White to build a

state-of-the-art ice cream factory based on international standards.

Project Snow White heralded the commencement of the ice cream business

in the company. The huge investment involved in the project strongly

conveyed the seriousness of the parent company. One of the technical

managers put the Snow White project in perspective:

Snow White created a state-of-the-art ice cream factory and is certainly the pride of the

company. The factory was the most happening place when we started. We are now

hard-pressed for sales volumes and the manufacturing capacities we created are not utilized.

In retrospect, I am not sure whether a one-manufacturing location is what this business

requires, considering the logistics involved. I even wonder whether we should have started

this business from the marketplace instead of in the research laboratory and with a factory


Myth 2: the price of confluence

This story relates to the parent company’s aggressive strategy of acquiring

local brands, companies, systems, and people between 1992 to 1997 at an

enormous cost and then of integrating them under one brand name and one

company, again at an immense cost. This initiative of integration was initially

labeled confluence when the first local brand was acquired. Many people in the

company were intensely involved in the confluence initiative among other

brands and business systems, but certain basic questions went unanswered.

One of the senior managers lamented:

I am not sure to date why we acquired brands and companies if we wanted to integrate them.

We acquired factories and closed down 30 of them. We acquired diverse business systems

and harmonized them, even though some had their own strengths. The confluence-related

efforts were enormous, but the results are far too less in proportion and didn’t do anything to

prop up the sales or market share.

These issues constantly haunted the people in the business, and they knew that

the price of confluence was a heavy one. A sense of frustration and helplessness

was palpable in their faces as they narrated this story.

Myth 3: the numbers game

In the annual business review presentation to the managers in 1996, the then

vice-chairman of XYZ made an announcement that ICD would achieve the goal

of “century by century”. This meant that ICD would reach sales volumes of 100

million liter tons of ice cream per year by the turn of the century. There were

cheers and clapping in the conference hall when the announcement was made,

and the mood at ICD was upbeat and full of optimism. The slogan was

subsequently flashed on all the company’s PC screens so that employees could




see it all the time and keep it at the center of their attention in everything they


In three years in a row after the “century by century” slogan was coined, the

sales volumes failed to reach even the 25 million liter tons per year mark. The

despair in the accounting section of ICD was so high that they even considered

making a deliberate accounting entry mistake to somehow reach the magical

figure of 25 million liter tons that seemed to elude the business year after year.

The “century by century” slogan by then had become a source of cynicism and

even ridicule.

One of the salespersons interviewed raised some fundamental issues relating

to numbers:

Sales targets are decided not in consultation but just handed over. We do not create

ownership for targets by people who are in the front end and who are responsible for

delivering results. We do not have the concept of bottom-up planning.

The people in the business knew that a numbers game that did not have the

commitment from the rank and file was at play in the business.

Myth 4: vacillation (H)axed

There was a strong feeling among managers that the business had vacillated in

its strategies and did not have a clear thrust by which to focus people’s

attention and energies. Thus, a Hax Strategy Workshop was conceived in

December 1998. The workshop, based on the famous Hax strategy model (Hax

and Majluf, 1996), for the first time brought together representatives from all

the functional areas, sales regions, and organizational levels of the company.

The process was designed to generate ideas in an uninhibited way, to cluster

the common ideas in a participative manner, and to arrive at major thrust areas

based on consensus. One of the managers was forthright in admitting what had

gone wrong with the business and how the Hax workshop had offered value:

We have so far not understood the market or the consumer. We treated our customers with a

paradigm “it better be good for you”. We treated our acquired companies with a paradigm

“we will teach you how to do the business”. When our strategies did not work, we vacillated

from one direction to the other, looking for quick results, and in the process confusing our

rank and file. The Hax workshop made us feel humble and accept that we don’t know enough.

We understood the triggers for the first time. We knew it is now or never for the business.

The workshop brought energy and enthusiasm to the group, and the members

felt that for the first time there was clarity and buy-in on the business priorities

and what was to be done. The workshop provided an impetus for innovation

and teamwork and was seen by many as a turning point for the business.

Myth 5: Cassatta quality

Cassatta was a product of one of the companies that was acquired by ICD. It

was a very popular product in the urban centers and was mainly consumed by

families in restaurants after dinner. The ICD’s quality controllers found




Cassatta an extremely unhygienic product that did not comply with the

international hygiene and quality standards. The ICD’s management initially

decided to discontinue the product, but on second thought agreed to explore the

possibility of reformulating and relaunching the product since it had a loyal

customer base.

A task force was formed in early 1996 by drawing people from various

functional areas. The task force produced a winner despite many constraints on

the manufacturing side. The relaunched Cassatta was a big success and

ensured that the business did not lose its customers. One of the task force

members commented that:

We worked hard on this, dissolving all our functional boundaries. We experimented with new

formulations and new quality standards in those old factories located in small towns with

worn-out machinery and under terrible working conditions. The effort was well worth it, and

we felt proud when the vice-chairman announced in the management meeting that Cassatta

quality is one “big thing we have done”.

A congratulatory letter signed by the vice-chairman was sent to all the

members of the task force. The achievement of this group was well publicized

in ICD and people in the business were urged to use this success story as a

model for future challenges.

Myth 6: Moves

Moves is the title of the internal communication that covers various transfers,

promotions, and exits of managers within the company. ICD had four

marketing managers and four business heads in a span of eight years, an

average of a two-year stay per manager. Most other managers had been in the

business for less than three years. One of the managers provided a possible

explanation for these moves:

This “people churn” in a floundering business is disastrous. Most managers do not see this

business as a challenge. They consider it as a losing proposition from their own career and

performance reward point of view. Some moved on to other businesses and most left the

company. Those in other businesses within the company do not want to come to ICD for

obvious reasons.

Another manager considered this as a management failure:

You cannot control the consumers or the markets. You cannot control the business results.

You certainly can control the movement of people and create a winning team. Unfortunately,

this was not done. Five years of discontinuity can kill anything.

It was clear that management changes had done little to nurture the soul of this

organization, especially during the most difficult phases of its growth. One of

the senior managers commented that an impulse business like ice cream could

be most unforgiving of mistakes. Given the risky nature of the business, it was

all the more critical to create a strong management team. It was important to

assure the managers of the company’s support for their careers and rewards if

they deliver the expected results. Unfortunately, no special policies were put in




place for ICD, which was treated like any of the well- established businesses of

the company.

All of these six myths emerged pregnant with meaning from the collective

unconscious as referred to by Jung (Jenner, 2000). They brought to life the

organizational realities and assisted members in making meaning of them.

These myths carried with them such passion or emotion to be able to get

themselves anchored in the mythic waters of the organization.

Organization’s mythograph

A mythograph is a framework used for making sense of the collection of myths

in a way that creates a story of the organization and facilitates its enhancement.

It can be conceptualized by plotting the myths on to a formal representation of

the organization. A formal organization can be depicted in the form of

organizational functions, departments or geographic areas. It can also be

represented in the form of management processes such as planning and control,

decision-making, and coordination. The choice of the formal organization

represented in a mythograph is dependent on the type of organizational myths

that emerge in a study of this kind.

The mythograph of ICD can be conceptualized in terms of the way its

management is structured to deal with various decision-making areas. The

mythograph of ICD (Figure 1), is represented on the vertical axis by the type of

decisions made (strategic and operational) and on the horizontal axis by the

way decisions are made (centralized and decentralized).

It can be seen from the mythograph that the downward flow of energy

begins with the strategic business decisions in the kitchen to Snow White and

the price of confluence myths. The unrealistic business projections made at the

Figure 1.

The mythograph of ICD




strategic level and the top-down target setting that is reflected in the numbers

game myth further lowered the energy levels. The last straw had been the

discontinuity and instability of the management team reflected in the Moves

tale, which seemed to have completely dissipated the energy flow in the

organization. The culture thus created can hardly promote risk-taking,

proactivity, and innovation, all the expectations that the business head of ICD

had envisioned for the organizational culture.

A glimmer of hope came from the Cassatta Quality myth, where an

operational issue was successfully dealt with in a centralized way by a task

force that delivered results through teamwork and commitment, despite the

many odds involved. The real signs of optimism come from the Vacillation

(H)axed story, which demonstrated the capacity of the employees to break

away from functional and organizational boundaries as well as from tightly

held paradigms and to apply collective creativity in identifying and dealing

with strategic priorities in a participative way. These two myths have

uncovered the intrapreneurship ability of the members, which is about

managing the business as if they own it.

The upward energy flow or spirit’s journey from Cassatta Quality to

Vacillation (H)axed, however, was weakened by the hierarchical power culture

prevailing in the larger system that is reflected by the numbers game. The

upward flow thus had to either negotiate its way around or find a way of

circumventing this stumbling block without colliding with it head-on. Either

strategy expends energy and runs a danger of the upward flow losing its

limited intensity and the spirit getting dissipated if the process was not

facilitated well.

The mythograph of ICD captured the story of the organization in terms

of the journey of the spirit. The story helped to make sense of what was

happening to the organization and the people within it. The dynamic of the

two plots of the story, one enabling and the other disabling, had been

powerfully revealed. More importantly, the effect of the dynamic between

the two conflicting, counteractive energy flows on the quality and

coherence of the spirit in the organization became obvious and explicit.

The mythograph and the patterns that emerged from it were presented to

the focus group. The anecdotal notes made during the focus group’s reflection

as stated below aptly summarize the impact the mythograph had on the

members’ consciousness:

Myths captured the organizational reality in a nonrational way. The mythograph depicted

the organization’s journey since its inception.

I can now see how our organization’s history and culture have driven our actions.

Several actions to revive our business have gone waste. I now understand why that happened.

The mythograph brought to the surface the real world that lies beneath the formal

organizational world.




The group members had, for the first time, seen the entire eight years of this

organization’s story captured in one graph by the six stories and begun to

relate that to the journey of the organization during this period.

Main findings

Alternate way of knowing

At the beginning of the study, there were as many rationally defensible

explanations about the state of the organization as the number of participants

in the study. The approach adopted by the participants was typically

reductionistic and involved breaking the organizational problems or issues into

their constituent parts and analyzing the parts using factual or empirical

evidence. The group was clearly functioning in a reductionistic mode. This

linear and rational approach was limiting and did not permit ICD’s managers to

grapple with organizational issues in systemic and integral ways.

Organizational transformation was also seen as the transformation of forms

and structures rather than appreciated as the evolution of organizational


The study demonstrated how myths could act as a vehicle to enable people

in an organization to move collectively beyond rational thinking and tap into

their emotional and intuitive domains of consciousness. When the

organizational myths surfaced during the retreat, the participants did not

analyze or argue about them. The myths appeared pregnant with meaning at

these deeper levels of consciousness and helped the participants to view the

organization from a neutral and nonjudgmental standpoint. They accepted the

myths as reality, which in Owen’s words is “neither true or false, but behind

truth” (Owen, 1993, p. 10).

The mythograph further assisted them in shifting their consciousness

beyond tangible facts and figures to those depicted by myths and energy flows.

They began to appreciate that there was an alternative way of looking at

organizations. This was obvious from the group’s reflection that followed the

presentation of the ICD’s mythograph. One of the members aptly summarized

the group’s experience:

This is a wonderful way to depict what we went through over the past eight years. We have

so far only analyzed the issues and tried to fix the problems. We never detached ourselves to

see the big picture and to reflect on the softer aspects of the organizational story that was

being shaped by our actions and the energy flow experienced by us in the organization.

Shared view of the organization’s story

The stories shared by the participants in this study were filled with laughter,

joy, pain, and sadness, thereby bringing abstract entities like organizations to

life. The very act of narrating and reflecting on organizational myths stirred

the consciousness of the group and brought the group to a shared level of

understanding on the current state of the organization in a nonthreatening way.




This shared view is in contrast to the varied explanations about what ailed the

business that were present at the beginning of the study.

The myths of kitchen to Snow White and the price of confluence brought the

group to a shared view of the burden placed on the business by the investments

made in the factory project and through the business acquisitions. The myth of

numbers game convinced the group about the futility of business projections

that are neither realistic nor have buy-in from the members. The myth of

Moves clearly underscored the importance of management stability in an

organization such as theirs, which is at an early stage of growth. The group

developed a sense of optimism and hope for future through the myths of

Cassatta quality and vacillation (H)axed.

The myths also provided participants with insight into what organizational

life is like and offered a bridge for envisioning new possibilities. The

envisioning of new possibilities was further reinforced by the group’s reflection

on the widely held beliefs and the underlying assumptions. While reflecting on

the myths during the retreat, one of the business managers said:

We are such a top-down organization because deep down all superiors think that they know

better than those working under them. We never acknowledged that the further up one is in

the organizational hierarchy, the less one knows about what is happening at the sharp end

and that it makes sense to reflect this in our process of decision-making.

Besides questioning widely held beliefs such as the one shared above, certain

underlying assumptions that were tacitly held by the members also surfaced

and were questioned. As one of the participants said in the retreat:

We thought so far that it is the products and the systems that make this business a success.

Now we realize that it is the people who make or break the business. They create the

products, they develop systems, and more importantly they marry them with the needs of the

consumers. This is so obvious and yet so glaringly missing from our business model.

It is this kind of questioning of the widely held beliefs and tacitly held

assumptions, which the participants collectively resorted to during the retreat,

that was made possible through the myths acting as a vehicle.

Evolution of organizational consciousness

The study supported the view that organizations, like human beings, can

evolve their consciousness, and that this change in consciousness is

fundamental to organizational transformation. In this study, the very process

of bringing to the surface and questioning the widely held beliefs and

underlying assumptions has paved the way for an evolution of organizational


If we define consciousness as the awareness of being aware, the evolution of

consciousness depends on the extent to which groups in an organization, in

Kegan’s terms, make object what is subject:

The root or “deep structure” of any principle of mental organization is the subject-object

relationship…. We have object; we are subject. We cannot be responsible for, in control of, or




reflect on that which is subject. Subject is immediate; object is mediate. Subject is ultimate or

absolute; object is relative (Kegan, 1995, p. 32).

The focus group members collectively identified and questioned the

organization’s beliefs and assumptions in a detached way while reflecting on

the myths and, in the process, made object what is subject. The members

collectively also appreciated the mythograph and its implications for the

energy flows and the quality of the spirit in the organization. The

organization’s story was made object through the group’s reflection on the


The members moved beyond the domain of rationality into the realm of

symbolism to appreciate and make meaning of the myths and the mythograph.

An evolution of consciousness happened to this group that resulted in viewing

organizational reality in a fundamentally different way. The members

experienced the organization in a living and spiritual way rather than in an

objectified and reified way, making object what is usually subject. The

evolution of this group’s consciousness is crucial and fundamental to the

transformation of ICD as an organization.


By identifying the myths of ICD and the patterns that emerged through its

mythograph, the study revealed the value of understanding the past

transformation journey prior to embarking on the journey ahead. The

mythograph provided a bridge for envisioning a new culture or new story for

ICD. The participants were confident that the energy flow or spirit’s journey in

the future would have more coherence and enough intensity to overcome the

myths that seem to dilute the energy flow and weaken the spirit’s quality.

The study demonstrated how myths could act as a vehicle for

understanding, expressing, and facilitating the organizational transformation

process. The role of organizational consciousness was amplified and

emphasized as fundamental to organizational transformation.


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