The book Sapiens makes the argument that the most important events in human history resulted from humans’ ability to organize and work together in groups. Humans were not the first species to organize, but they are still the only to collaborate beyond hard-coded genetic instructions. Humans were able to organize by creating common beliefs in non-physical ideas. These myths became collective knowledge and are the building blocks for society.
Religion, capitalism, currency, freedom, and democracy are all ideas of our imaginations. They don’t physically exist, but because we all believe in them, they define our world. To ensure that when we think of “freedom”, we all think of the same concepts, our culture uses stories based on real events. Some examples:
- The Revolutionary War
- The Civil Rights Movement
- The Allies vs. Nazi Germany
Stories are effective because they trigger core human values, are easy to remember, and serve as guiding principles for decision making. A group that believes in the same story can unite and act with speed and efficiency.
It is this reason that all companies have their own founding story and teach it during employee onboarding. Here are some examples:
- Intercom: The founders were regulars at a coffee shop in Dublin. They got to know the owner and built a deep relationship with him. They soon realized that unlike the coffee shop, Internet businesses are not able to develop strong connections with their customers. Thus began Intercom and the mission to “make Internet business personal”. [a version of it]
- Affirm: Max Levchin was trying to purchase a car on the day Paypal went public. He was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, but the dealership could not verify his creditworthiness. This frustrating experience inspired Affirm and the mission to “deliver honest financial products that improve lives”. [a version of it]
I would bet those two myths are at least 80% accurate, but it would make no difference if they were lies. They are sticky. The fact that I just recalled both of those from memory is proof of their effectiveness.
Everyone is telling a story all the time. People want you to follow their own narrative. I do it too. Persuasiveness is an invaluable life skill and there is nothing wrong with using it. Some stories are worth following.
My principle is against blindly subscribing to other peoples’ stories. “Think for yourself” is as simple and as literal as I can write it. I should be able to develop my own opinions and beliefs. I never want to believe something because someone else thought it.
To think is the most core aspect of my identity. If I cannot think for myself, then I am nobody.