Sorcerer’s Apprentice Theory

Andrea Belk Olson
3 min readOct 2, 2023

You likely remember Mickey Mouse and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It’s a story that revolves around an apprentice of a great sorcerer who has grown tired from repetitive manual labor and decides to automate his chores with a bit of help from his departed master’s hat. However, when the apprentice falls asleep, he awakens to find himself in a bit of a predicament. The brooms Mickey used to help him clean have kept replicating and now things are out of control.

Unlike most Disney tales, this isn’t an original concept or a fairytale. Instead, it’s based on the poem of the same name by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the author of Faust.

There are multiple interpretations of lessons from this story. The one most frequently cited is about the consequences of laziness, and getting involved in things you don’t understand. But I’d argue that’s missing the point.

Consider Pandora’s Box. In Greek Mythology, to punish humanity, the other gods created the first woman, the beautiful Pandora. As a gift, Zeus gave her a box, which she was told never to open. However, as soon as Zeus was out of sight she took off the lid and outswarmed all the troubles of the world, never to be recaptured.

This is the same as Mickey’s brooms and an important consideration for businesses and business leaders that are exploring and implementing new technologies or major organizational changes. There’s always a downstream effect. While we may not be able to predict that effect, we can stop to consider what those effects might possibly be.

Take social media — while the initial premise of connecting people and providing a wide platform for democratic discourse is positive, it has spawned negative outcomes as well. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Theory illustrates this — the idea that something can create a lot of new problems that you did not expect, and therefore, you must not only examine the intended positive outcomes but also the potentially negative ones. It’s important to examine both sides of the coin, as there are often ways to mitigate those negative outcomes with a bit of preemptive effort.

Say you have a major organizational change, which will impact every department in the company. While your team spends time emphasizing why the change will be positive, it’s essential to take the time upfront to examine what negative outcomes could occur. Create a plan to address them — and take proactive steps to prevent them. Even though you can’t predict every possible outcome, you can do a lot to reduce negative impacts.

So as you develop that new, groundbreaking technology, or launch a major organizational change, consider the Sorcerer’s Apprentice Theory. Although at first, all the brooms were producing fantastic results, things got out of hand quickly. And you might not have a sorcerer to easily put everything back to the way it was.

About the Author

Andrea’s 25-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a change agency dedicated to helping companies address both the operational and the psychological components of strategic change.

In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations around the world. Connect with Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available at or

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Andrea Belk Olson

Behavioral Scientist. Customer-Centricity Expert. Prolific Author. Compelling Speaker. More at