Book Review – Our Iceberg is Melting By John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Our Iceberg is meltingIntroduction

If you’ve read books like One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, then you will be familiar with the way this book is written. A story telling style is used to illustrate John Kotter’s eight principles of change outlined in another book, Leading Change by the same author. The characters in this book are, surprisingly penguins and the premise is a threat to the lifestyle of the penguins because their current habitat, the iceberg where they live is melting. The book goes through how the penguins discovered the problem which highlights a need for change and how they then go through the change process using Kotter’s eight principles for change.

Here is a brief review of how the eight principles of managing change by Kotter are illustrated with the Penguins situation.

Create a sense of urgency: A penguin named Fred discovers that the iceberg where the colony lives is melting. He tells a respected member of the colony called Alice about his discovery who is initially skeptical, but after showing her what he saw she begins to believe and see how urgent the situation is. Alice tells the leading council of penguins of which she is a member, most of whom don’t believe her. Fred uses some creative ways to help the penguins see the urgency of the situation

Pull together the guiding team: A team is put together to deal with the situation. The team consists of five penguins who immediately start thinking about ideas on how to deal with the situation. Their inspiration for a solution finally comes from a seagull.

Develop the change vision and strategy: The inspiration from the seagull led to a solution which would change the way the penguins lived. They would become a nomad colony that moved to locations suitable for living if where they were currently living was not safe. This would be a big change to the penguins who had lived in one location for years and were used to their current way of life.

Communicate for understanding and buy-In: Though the team had now found a potential solution they needed to get the buy-in of the penguins. There were penguins who were very skeptical and thought either the whole thing about the melting iceberg was nonsense or it was too dangerous for the penguins to move. The team found interesting ways to communicate the vision to arouse the interest of the penguins and off course there were different reactions to the communication. But the team relented, they made posters and put them all around to communicate the vision and emphasize the advantages of a new way of life.

Empower others to act: The team found ways to include other penguins to become part of the solution. Because others felt part of the solution the opposition decreased.

Produce Short-Term Wins: When other penguins got involved they started achieving short term goals which were necessary on the way to the end result. This encouraged more penguins to buy-in to the idea. To the team these felt like short-term wins, and it kept the penguins motivated to keep working on towards the solution.

Don’t let up: The colony finally moved to a new iceberg but they didn’t stay there. They found a better one and moved again. They were not giving up but kept looking for better living situations for the colony.

Create a new culture: Action were taken to cement the new culture in place. They didn’t want the penguins going back to old ways of living.

Summarily these are the eight steps the penguins went through:

  1. They created a sense of urgency in the colony to deal with a difficult problem.
  2. They put a carefully selected group in charge of guiding the change.
  3. They found the sensible vision of a better future.
  4. They communicated that vision so others would understand and accept it.
  5. They removed as many obstacles to action as was practical.
  6. They created some sort of success quickly.
  7. They never let up until the new way of life was firmly established.
  8. They ensured that the changes would not be overcome by stubborn, hard-to-die traditions.

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