Other Business - Management Lessons From Hollywood - Off to see the wizard of puffery. As an example of strategic alliances and the importance of researching the strengths and weaknesses of competitors, The Wizard of Oz still has much to teach us, says Rhymer Rigby.
When The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939, there were many in 'Red-baiting' Hollywood who felt it had a distinctly communist subtext. A more enlightened viewing reveals it to be a cautionary tale of capitalism gone wrong.
After a tornado, our heroine, Dorothy, finds herself in Munchkinland, an enclave in the Oz Federation. Here, having accidentally killed the Wicked Witch of the East, she enjoys enormous goodwill. Rather than build on this, she shows herself unwilling to embrace change and, imagining this to be the way home to Kansas, is seduced by the Emerald City and its charismatic Wizard.
Along the yellow brick road to the city, she enters into a four-way partnership with three psychologically flawed individuals: the scarecrow, tin man and lion. When the foursome finally arrive at the city, they discover that most of the 'mission critical' information they sought would have been available closer to home - on the internet, for example.
Sixty years on, the points made by this classic tale ring as true as ever. Indeed, here in the corporate community, just as over the rainbow, we should all be friends of Dorothy.
Shortly after her arrival in Oz, Dorothy outlines her strategy: to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and form an information-sharing alliance with the Wizard. Further investigation reveals the Wizard to be a hopeless old buffer, pumped up by public relations, and the benefit of this alliance - her ticket home - was on her feet all along in the form of the ruby slippers. Dorothy's problem is she has been too single-goal oriented. It would have been far better had she engaged a decent think-tank or consultancy. A free-ranging exploration of her options by those who knew Oz best - and greater attention to her knowledge management systems - could have saved her a high risk/low return journey.
KNOWING ONE'S LIMITS
Rescued from a going-nowhere security operation in a cornfield, the scarecrow asks Dorothy to take him along to the Emerald City. Naturally, she is initially sceptical of his qualifications, and the scarecrow tries to put his case across using a persuasive and skilful blend of song and dance. However, what finally swings the deal for her is his frankness about his personal strengths and weaknesses. 'I don't eat a thing,' he explains, and, more significantly: 'I won't try to manage things, because I can't think.' Dorothy need have little fear of a hostile attempt to replace her as leader. Scarecrow's readiness to admit and accept his limitations is something which Britain's managerial community would do well to emulate.
When Dorothy and her companions finally reach the Emerald City, they explain to the gatekeeper that they have come to see the Wizard. His response is both curt and uncompromising. 'Nobody sees the great Oz,' he barks, before slamming the judas gate in their faces. So Dorothy knocks again, this time explaining that she has been sent by her mentor, the Good Witch of the North. Now the gatekeeper's attitude is altogether more accommodating.
'Well, why didn't you say?' he asks. Dorothy realises that doing business in Oz is much like working in the City of London or with New Labour - who you know is often much more important than genuine ability or an impressive curriculum vitae.
After her capture by the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy's companions stage a daring rescue bid. Despite a promising start to their escape, the foursome soon find they are surrounded by the Witch and her army.
Unable to resist a little theatre, the Witch sets the scarecrow alight, whereupon, in a show of boardroom solidarity, Dorothy throws water on him and inadvertently drenches the Witch, causing her to dissolve. A lucky break, perhaps, but Dorothy and her board could have saved themselves a lot of trouble had they done a little research on the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors. A pump-action water pistol, retailing for under £20, would have saved untold lion, scarecrow and tin-man hours.
When Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas, she regales her disbelieving aunt and uncle with her adventures in Oz, concluding: 'I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again - there's no place like home.' Dorothy's saccharin sentiments may go down well in the parochial world of mid-western farming but they are unlikely to impress the business community. Globalisation is the name of the game and overseas experience is a definite pull on the resumes of an overwhelming majority of FTSE and Fortune 500 directors.
If Dorothy is to stand any chance of breaking the glass ceiling to become another Scardino or Roddick, she will have to adopt a more global view and be ready to take up the challenge of an overseas posting.