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What does it mean to be a learning organisation?  Experienced L&D practitioners will usually have a rapid answer to such a basic questions. But perhaps an even better question is: What does it mean to NOT be a learning organisation?”

In the search for powerful stories about non-learning organisations you cannot do much better than share with colleagues the tale of musician Dave Carrol’s difficulty with United Airlines.

United apparently broke his treasured Taylor guitar ($3500) during a flight. Dave spent over nine months trying to get United to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar.

During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he warned that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation.

The Manager responded: "Good luck with that one, pal".

So he posted a retaliatory video on YouTube. The video has since received over 7 million hits.  You can see why if you go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo&NR=1

With United Airlines now on the defensive, they contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for taking the video off YouTube. Naturally his response was: "Good luck with that one, pal".

The proposed settlement was so apparently lacking in customer care that cunning Carrol, now on a roll, posted a second compelling response at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-UoERHaSQg&feature=response_watch

and the number of views is now approaching a million!

Taylor Guitars on the other hand sent the musician two new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has lead to a sharp increase in orders. They also posted their own video explaining what a great repair service they had available!

So now the non-responsive airline has found itself caught in a highly damaging viral campaign that continues to grow. The first version of this blog had the number of views at around 6 million and within a few days it had escalated to 7 million.

United of course has gradually seen the light, admitting that the video represented "a unique learning opportunity" and intended to use it internally for training purposes!"

“United Breaks Guitars” though may well become a destructive catch phrase that the company will find it hard to escape from. If they break guitars what else will they break?

This could all be dismissed as good knock about fun, until one remembers the impact of the notorious Ratner comment about his jewellery being crap. It ultimately contributed to the demise of the entire company.

With airlines everywhere struggling to win customers, not learning from your mistakes could prove not merely expensive, but life threatening.

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