The Kangaroo’s Tail (The Learning Zone Part Two)

We think of kangaroos as cute creatures hopping around with little baby joeys sticking out of their mom’s pouch, and its true that their pouch is their most famous feature.  But these cuddly looking critters are also fearsome fighters when attacked, and it is their tail that they count on the most when they are faced with a crisis.  They lean back on that tail and kick out with both hind feet repelling any threat to their safety. Sure a kangaroo has speed to defend itself as well, but it is the tail that is its “go to” defense.

Last week’s post was about Finding Our Learning Zone.  In that post I wrote about how we can work to spend as much time as possible in a learning stance.  I’d like to continue looking at that by using the metaphor of a kangaroo’s tail.

A coach I have worked with, Bill Harrison, uses this metaphor to help us understand what our “go to” capability is.  It is the skill we go to when everything is on the line and we just have to get something done, succeed, protect something, etc.  We lean on our kangaroo tail just like a kangaroo leans on theirs in a pinch.

So what’s important about our kangaroo tail?  Simple … its knowing it is there.  What is less simple is actually trusting that it is there whenever we need it and then using that trust to step outside our comfort zone and stay out there, knowing that if anything unexpected happens we have our unique capability that we can draw on to get through the situation.

Bill introduced this concept to help me understand that it is safe to venture into the world of the less known or unknown.  For me, my kangaroo tail is critical thinking or analytical skills.  I use it to converge on solutions that I’m comfortable will work and thus ensure that my comfort is not threatened.  What Bill showed me was that this capability is convergent and thus tends to limit the possibilities I look at.  He asked me how it would work if I were to use divergent thought processes that will allow me to explore new possibilities and perhaps wander into areas I’m less familiar with, knowing that if any tricky situations arise as a result that I can always lean back on my kangaroo tail and apply my critical thinking skills to find the right solution.

It’s an interesting concept to understand.  If I always know I can converge on an answer, how much more comfortable am I at exploring divergent thinking?  It’s sometimes very easy to do when there is no sense that our security / comfort will be threatened, but takes some focus to do when we are changing some of the basic constructs of our life.

Here Bill introduced two questions for me to think about, and they were very meaningful for my understanding of how to really lean back on that tail. They are attributed to Robert Biswas-Diener, known as the Indiana Jones of positive psychology.

What do you want to get curious about?

What do you need to get courageous about?

Expanded Learning
Expanded Learning

These questions became the key to the learning zone model that I wrote about last week.  They are the critical questions that allow us to widen the learning zone by compressing both our comfort zone and the panic zone. With curiosity, we naturally want to leave the comfort zone. With courage we are more willing to push ourselves further into the panic zone and find that we can stand there.  All this because we know we have a kangaroo tail to lean back on!



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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

9 thoughts on “The Kangaroo’s Tail (The Learning Zone Part Two)

      1. I thought about this some more. I think I need to solve problems. Falling back on my tail means that with a group, or alone (rather be in a group) I figure out the end goal and the steps it will take to get there and act. Someone once called me an applied visionary and I think that’s kind of what it means, to me anyway. 😀

  1. It is said courage overcomes panic and yet comforts protect against panic so one can get stuck back in comfort for fear of panic. The green ‘learning’ zone between makes sense. Having ‘a kangaroo tail’ to balance of a known ‘comfort’ or learning strength within the learning zone is even better. I think analytical and problem-solving skills have been my strength in the past, and could become my ‘kangaroo tail’ to break out of the zone of comfort and try new things.

    Excellent post. You do not actually say in your post whether you have applied it yourself in ‘less familiar’ areas and if so whether it worked.

    1. Thank you for the comments! I have actually applied this. I have two thought about it. First is that acknowledging one’s kangaroo tail lends a lot of strength to making this work. Second is it is the use of divergent thought processes that extract the most value.

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