Learning’s not in Kansas Anymore Toto *


Have you noticed the speed of change and the growing uncertainty we’re currently experiencing? Get used to it because it’s probably not going to change anytime soon. World power bases are shifting and accepted economic norms are moving with them. Lifestyles based on endless debt are being called to account exposing individuals, families, organisations and entire countries.  The world is on a massive change continuum – “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”.

What has this got to do with learning? Like Dorothy who found herself having to adjust to a new world, with new people, relationships, circumstances and goals, our organisations are having to analyse, adjust, realign and even reinvent themselves in order to journey along the yellow brick road to success – even survival.

Learning is smack bang in the middle of the adjusting and should be seen as an absolute necessity on the road to success and survival. If you recall the Wizard of Oz storyline, the slightly naive Dorothy found herself in a new world having to form relationships with three characters who as it turns out need her as much as she needs them. The Lion believes he needs courage, the Tin Man wants a heart and the Scarecrow desires wisdom. This unlikely group formed a strong team who together sought answers from the all powerful Wizard in the Emerald City which in this context could be seen as a metaphor for success and fulfilment.

Learning on the Yellow Brick Road

Through a series of situations and events with Dorothy at the centre who helped them reflect, the Lion the Tin Man and the Scarecrow all discover they actually already possess the very qualities they believed they lack. They LEARNED through experience and through depending on each other how to survive, how to grow and how to succeed. They learned on the job – on the yellow brick road of experience.

Your organisation and mine is on the same road. We all want to know how to reach our goals. We all know we have to find the right ingredients – people, systems, products and processes – along the way to get there. We need something or someone helping us learn about ourselves, our businesses our competitors, our customers as we go. And we need to rapidly turn that learning into actionable outcomes. When you’re being chased by a wicked witch and a bunch of angry flying monkeys, there isn’t really time to sit in a classroom and consider your options! You learn as you go and you turn to the knowledge you already possess into competitive advantage.

Hearts, Minds and the Learning Organisation

If I can draw some longer bows now and make the links to Oz more tangible, I see L&D as the means to develop organisational heart – true vision and leadership comes from managers who know where the organisation is going and how to inspire their employees to get there. Leaders must create the conditions for ideas and innovation to flourish. They must engage the hearts of people in order to engage their creativity. Learning is the function best placed to create this kind of leader and leadership. Leadership must be democratised too – everyone in the organisation must feel empowered to generate new ideas, to lead from the front and not wait for someone else to create the change they know will benefit the organisation. L&D is the Dorothy to the organisation’s Tin Man – developing, coaching, mentoring and leadership programs that enable true people leadership across the organisation. Helping to reflect and learn as we go.

Wisdom comes from reflection – reflecting on the considered use of knowledge on the job. Knowledge is a vital component of how organisations operate and learn. The Scarecrow didn’t know he already had wisdom. In the same way most organisations don’t know what they know about themselves. The greatest knowledge about our business is held in the experience of our people. We need to find ways to unlock that knowledge and share it rapidly across teams, departments and division. Staff need to be able to pull knowledge to themselves at the time they need it. Vast repositories of information won’t cut it when consumers want solutions in real time. We live in an on-demand world where the digital natives are driving real time knowledge sharing and decision making. Processes and systems within our organisations will need to operate much the same as technology outside the firewall or consumers will pass us by.

The brain we desire is really the sum of the other two parts. If we can create organisations that know where they are going, full of engaged people who are being lead by managers who allow and enable them to create and share new knowledge based on everyday experiences, then we can say we have a learning organisation – an organisation with a collective brain that from the newest staff member to the CEO knows what it knows about its business, its customers and its competitors and uses that knowledge in those moments of truth we have with our customers.

No we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in a brave new world that requires new thinking about learning – where it happens, when it happens. New approaches to managing individual and collective knowledge so that new innovations are shared rapidly and efficiently. And new thinking around the role of leadership – leaders as teachers, as encouragers, as enablers of a workforce that knows more about what it really knows and is adding to that knowledge every day.

* It all started when Dorothy found herself in Munchkinland. “Toto, I have a feeling we’re in Kansas anymore,” quipped a young Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz, a line that would forever permeate the pop cultural zeitgeist, quoted or paraphrased endlessly by characters in film, TV, and literature.Read more.
Please note that the blog posts are the personal views and opinions of the contributors and not necessarily the views of the organisations they work for.


  1. I love the ‘Wizard of Oz’ analogy, Peter.

    One of your statements that struck a chord with me was: “Processes and systems within our organisations will need to operate much the same as technology outside the firewall or consumers will pass us by.”

    Do you have any particular examples in mind?

  2. Thanks Ryan,

    The key message here is that the methods people use to communicate and learn outside most organisations is through social media, web 2.0 technology, mobile texting, video, etc. It’s all immediate, all connected, everyone is “on’ and available 24 x 7 (if my sons are any indication). Those businesses using “20th century” technology – email, telephone, powerpoint etc – and similar decision making processes – death by meeting, siloed departments, hiearchical management structures – will fail to attract the digitial natives who will dominate employee numbers in the near future. The brightest and the best won’t want to work in places where the way work happens gets in the way of how they are used to getting things done.

    Big challenges for IT to balance information security with enabling the organisation to learn, change and flourish in pace with consumer and business demand. Huge challenges for business to change cultures that have endured for decades but will not pass the test of time.

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