We’ve all heard urban myths – those stories that are passed from one person to another but somehow you can never pin them down to their origins. Yet there’s usually a feeling that maybe it could be true – until you start to think about it a bit more deeply. These stories often involve disaster or an element of horror – and we all like to have our horror buds titillated, don’t we, as long as it’s not likely to happen to us? Sometimes however the tale is one of hope, especially a ray of hope in a desperate situation.
One of the latter is the tale of the Grenfell baby. We were all terribly shocked to see the images of Grenfell Tower ablaze in June this year, and horror-struck by the fate of those trapped in the upper storeys. A tale emerged of a baby who was miraculously saved by being thrown out of a window on the ninth or tenth floor and – equally miraculously – being caught by an onlooker on the ground. There were quite a number of witnesses to this, and, although it was only one life saved, this was met with rejoicing and also with compassion as we contemplated the horrific choice made by (presumably) the mother, trapped with no hope of escape.
There’s just one snag with all this – no-one can find the baby! I’m told that even a young baby weighs about the same as a mid-size ten-pin bowling ball. Also, following the laws of physics, the velocity of the baby’s fall would accelerate. Can you imagine catching a bowling ball dropping vertically on you? Even if you managed this, wouldn’t you be injured and, even more likely, wouldn’t the baby be injured? Surely a hospital or doctors’ surgery somewhere would have treated the baby? Not only that, apparently none of the alleged witnesses will talk about the incident.
So what happened? Why did a number of people say that they witnessed something that almost certainly didn’t happen? One person has said that he saw a baby being held out of a window on about the fourth floor (apparently to get oxygen) – but not dropped or thrown. Did the others witness this and somehow extrapolate this into a survival story? Or was it all just wishful thinking? It’s well-known that, psychologically, it’s very easy to infer what you assume has happened from looking at the circumstances or results. But in this case there seems to be very little to support the fantasy that these people actually saw a baby thrown from the tower – let alone caught without injury.
What can we learn from this to help us in business?
- Never dismiss the power of myth
- If myth starts about your business, there’s probably little you can do to stop it
- So if it’s a positive rumour – let it run, but try to ensure that it can’t be disproved
- If it’s negative – you could do worse than start another positive rumour running.
I’ve used the word ‘rumour’ – and I’d like to draw a distinction here. A rumour tends to be short-lived – something one-person notices and passes on which then becomes twisted or exaggerated. This can damage your business – but usually the evidence either disproves or proves the rumour within a short space of time.
But if the rumour passes into myth – then it tends to linger indefinitely, often in spite of logic, scientific fact or evidence that shows it to be extremely unlikely to be true. This may be because there is a small kernel of truth. So if your business is going to achieve mythical status – better make sure it’s positive!
Do share with me any rumours or myths that have affected your business – and how it affected you.