There are No Wizards in Oz

Wizard (wĭz’ərd) n.

  1. One who practices magic; a sorcerer or magician.
  2. A skilled or clever person;a sage.

The Wizard of Oz is hot theme right now, particularly as the Broadway version of Wicked continues to rack up impressive sales at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. I love the theme song from the play:

We are off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz
We hear he’s a Whiz of a Wiz, if ever a Wiz ther was
If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was the Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because,
because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does.

Dorothy and her four familiar friends followed the yellow brick road in an attempt to seek the wisdom, favor, and influence of the all powerful Wizard. They sought the Wizard because he had a wonderfully impressive reputation: a mysterious, larger-than-life power who boomed forth dictates in an authoritative voice, complete with flashing lights, and sputtering smoke. The Wizard, because of the “wonderful things he does”, had a reputation of being powerful enough to solve any problem. However, much to Dorothy’s disappointment, the Wizard turned out to be just a normal guy – in fact, a little man behind an impressively scary contraption that dramatically augmented his voice, created confusion with flashing lights, and belched out wafting smoke.

Much like Dorothy, I have found in my entrepreneurial experience that there are no Wizards in Oz. All the big scary things that I had to experience – raising money from VC’s, closing big customer deals, working with large industry partners, building a service delivery team, penetrating a very competitive marketing, and building a compelling open source product – confirmed my suspicion that no Wizard was going to come in and save the day, or in many cases, even improve upon what you could do on your own. There is no person, or partner, who will be pulling the trigger with silver “save the day” bullets.

The massive reputations that proceed most Wizards can actually be dispelled, or more appropriately, understood, once you start working together in the trenches. They are just like you and me, normal people that have limitations, shortcomings, frailties, fears, and in some cases, major flaws. This is not to say that Wizards are good for nothing. There are lessons to be learned from Wizards – particularly that young entrepreneurial David’s can have the confidence to go to battle with the proverbial slingshot and smooth stones against the corporate or industry Goliaths.

In order to help fellow travelers pursuing their dream along the yellow brick road, I wanted to share some ideas about how to spot and unveil Wizards:

  • Authoritative Voice – A Wizard speaks in an authoritative voice, often without consulting the facts or consulting recent information. Many Wizards hold onto the bygone age of alchemy, and have not progressed with the advances of the science. They leverage past successes as a presupposition for future successes. They have typically become spin masters, instead of value creators, as a means to preserve power. In fact, this is often elevated to an artform, and Wizards can often preserve their mystique by spinning things in such a way that no one dares or cares to ask questions. Remember the volume of the voice is irrelevant, and you should work to ensure that the content is the determinant of value.
  • Flashing Lights – Most Wizards have had some success in their background. There is usually some merit in these past successes, but it typically has become distorted with time or subsequent events. It is analogous to the “Al Gore Created the Internet“-style assumptions/associations. The stories get spun into a reputational series of flashing lights that are intentionally confusing and confounding. My advice to founders is to look beyond the strobe-like distortions to really determine the value of all that “experience”. Examine the Wizards accomplishment in the light of day, not in the bizarre, slow motion flashing light simulation.
  • Sputtering Smoke – For the final effect, Wizards have learned that a healthy measure of sputtering smoke can greatly enhance the effect. You can understand why – the booming voice echoing off the walls while the flashing lights reverberating off the billowing smoke. In this environment of fear, doubt, and uncertainty most people run for cover enabling the Wizard maintain control. Wizards understand psychology and politics better than almost anyone, and they will use this smoke screen approach to perform most of their slight of hand maneuvers.

But eventually the smoke dissipates, eyes accommodate to the flashing lights, the authoritative voice becomes hollow, and in the light of day the Wizard is revealed. Borrowing from the script itself :

CAMERA:        Pan in Throne Room -- Oz's voice booms out as the CAMERA PULLS back to reveal the Scarecrow, Dorothy, Lion and Tin Man standing in front of it --
OZ'S VOICE:    “Can I believe my eyes?  Why....”
CAMERA:        The Four trembling with fear -- CAMERA PULLS back as Dorothy comes forward with the broomstick and places it on the steps to throne – she speaks --
OZ'S VOICE:    “...have you come back?”
DOROTHY:       Please, sir.  We've done what you told us. We've brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her.
OZ'S VOICE:    “Oh ...”
CAMERA:         Pan back to wizard
OZ'S VOICE:    “...you liquidated her, eh?  Very...”
CAMERA:         Dorothy smiling, with the Tin Man, Lion and the Scarecrow in back of her also looking pleased – she speaks -- they react as Oz speaks --
OZ'S VOICE:    “...resourceful!”
DOROTHY:       “Yes, sir.  So we'd like you to keep your promise to us, if you please, sir.”
OZ'S VOICE:    “Not so fast!  Not...so fast!  I'll have to give the matter a little thought.  Go away and come back tomorrow!”
CAMERA:        Dorothy, with her three friends behind her -- she reacts, speaks -- the Tin Man and the Lion put in a word for her --
DOROTHY:       “Tomorrow?  Oh, but I want to go home now.
TIN MAN:       “You've had plenty of time already!”
LION:          “Yeah!”
CAMERA:         Throne
OZ'S VOICE:    “Do not arouse the wrath....”
CAMERA:        Toto at Dorothy's feet -- CAMERA PANS right with him as he runs to a curtain that hangs near the throne steps --
OZ'S VOICE:   “...of the Great and Powerful Oz!  I said -- come back tomorrow!”
CAMERA:       The Four -- Dorothy speaks as she looks o.s. to right f.g. – CAMERA PULLS back to right to enter the curtain where Toto ran in the b.g. – it shakes as Toto starts to pull it back --
DOROTHY:       “If you were really great and powerful, you'd keep your promises!”
OZ'S VOICE:    “Do you presume to criticize the....”
CAMERA:        Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the Wizard at the controls of the throne apparatus -- his back to the camera
OZ'S VOICE:    “...Great Oz?  You ungrateful creatures!”
CAMERA:        The Four react with fear -- Scarecrow looks o.s. to right – points for Dorothy --
OZ'S VOICE:    “Think yourselves lucky that I'm....”
CAMERA:        Shooting past the Four at left to the Wizard at the controls of the throne apparatus -- the Four react as they see him after Dorothy calls their attention to him 
OZ'S VOICE:    “...giving you audience tomorrow, instead of...”
CAMERA:        The Wizard at the controls -- his back to camera -- he speaks into the microphone -- he turns, looks o.s. to f.g. and sees that the curtain is gone -- reacts and turns back to the controls
OZ'S VOICE:    “...twenty years from now.  Oh -- oh  oh! The Great Oz has spoken!  Oh -- Oh...”
CAMERA:        Shooting past the Four at left to the Wizard as he pulls back the curtain
OZ'S VOICE:    “...Oh...Oh...”
CAMERA:       The Wizard peers out from behind the curtain -- Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and Scarecrow react as they look at the Wizard o.s. to right - Dorothy speaks
DOROTHY:       “Who are you?”
CAMERA:        The Wizard peering out from curtain - he ducks back out of sight and his voice booms out again -
OZ'S VOICE:    “Oh - I - Pay no....”
CAMERA:        Shooting past the Four at left to the Curtain in b.g. – Dorothy        goes over to it and starts to pull it aside --
OZ'S VOICE:    “...attention to that man behind the curtain. Go - before I lose my temper! The Great and Powerful....”
CAMERA:       Dorothy pulls back the curtain to reveal the Wizard at the control -- he reacts as he sees Dorothy -- Dorothy questions him -- the Wizard starts to speak into the microphone -- then turns weakly back to Dorothy -- CAMERA PULLS back slightly as the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man enter and stand behind Dorothy --
OZ'S VOICE:    “...Oz...has spoken!”
DOROTHY:       “Who are you?”
OZ'S VOICE:    “Well, I -- I -- I am the Great and Powerful -- Wizard of Oz.”       
DOROTHY:       “You are?”
OZ'S VOICE:    “Uhhhh -- yes...”
DOROTHY:       “I don’t believe you!”
OZ'S VOICE:       “No, I'm afraid it's true. There's no other Wizard except me.”

I use the above example for the visceral impact of its imagery. But this gut reaction is so powerful because of how closely it mimics the real-life of entrepreneurial experience. At the end of the day, it was Dorothy and her friends, who banded together to overcome the impossible and destroy the wicked witch. The wizardry was the faith of the people in themselves to bring about the magic (remember, just add “water”).

So, fellow travelers, safe journey on your way to Oz.

—-

There are some true Wizards who are worthy of our respect. A legendary example of one would be John Wooden, who was even known as the Wizard of Westhood, for his system of coaching which yielded 13 NCAA National Basketball Championships in his 27 years of coaching.

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