Saturday, November 6, 2010

Update: AK-47 as story-telling success (or propaganda)?

In March, Dave Gray wrote a post where he referenced using the AK-47 as an example of good design thinking: designing stuff to work in the real world. He was not praising the gun, he was just using it as an example. He also mentioned that using the Kalashnikov as a subject for his speech probably gets people engaged better than some dry facts. I liked Dave’s post so much I pointed to it too.

Part of his story is retelling the development of the AK-47: how “Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 because his homeland had been invaded by an enemy with superior weapons. He wasn’t a ‘hired hand of an industry, doing whatever was needed.’ He was a tank mechanic who saw fellow soldiers and civilians gunned down and wanted to ensure that it would never happen again.” It’s a great story, and one that has obviously succeeded for years. Only one problem:

It’s not true.

According to Wired, the AK-47 was the result of a multi-team effort to design a better gun. And the story about Kalashnikov? Soviet propaganda.

The “design for the real world” part of the story is still true, if not enhanced because it was a team (or teams) that created the weapon, not a lone genius. And in the real world, it’s often teams that need to create useful stuff, and that means checking your ego at the door sometimes and working together for the good of the client and the project.


It is a weapon, hardly what we would call “useful stuff.” And the story about a tank mechanic defending his country isn’t true. It’s a good story. It’s lasted 50 years. And it is stickier than “industrial complex invents better gun.” But it is a lie in service to a political cause. (Or a former political cause.)

I’m a big proponent of good story-telling, it’s at the heart of good presentations and good branding. But isn’t there also an ethical component to developing a great narrative?

I think there is. I think the basic story has to be true. Exaggeration or hyperbole is fine, making stuff up is not.

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