Summary of “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber: Through a fable about penguins whose iceberg is cracking, the authors convey a message for making change happen within our organizations; we learn that companies must constantly adapt in order to develop and that success can only be achieved with a collective and innovative spirit.
By John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber, 2018 (reissue), 189 pages.
Review and Summary of “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
In the introduction to the book “Our Iceberg is Melting”, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber:
- Put forward their interest in the change they have been studying for many years: for education systems, nations or even businesses, it is an ongoing challenge. There are many ways to help a group to change.
- Emphasize that fables have the power of being remembered for a long time and that they are an excellent tool to convey a message. To gain a better understanding of the challenges linked to organizational change, the John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber first choose to tell us a story of penguins in Antarctica.
Hence, “Our Iceberg is Melting” is divided into two parts. We will discover:
- First, the daily reality of penguins, far from the idea we have of it: the fable is inspired by the work of John Kotter on change and tells of the difficulties encountered by penguins in their need to adapt.
- Second, how these difficulties are very similar to those that can occur at the heart of a business.
First part of “Our Iceberg is Melting”: The Fable
Chapter 1 – Our Iceberg Will Never Melt
In this first chapter, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber set the scene for the fable. We are in Antarctica, near Cape Washington, on a very old iceberg. It is here that a colony of penguins enjoys ideal living conditions. In fact, they are convinced that they will never have to leave their cozy home.
To combat the cold, these animals instinctively know to keep each other warm. Therefore, the large family of emperor penguins have understood the importance of solidarity. Without it, they simply cannot survive.
The colony has 268 penguins, and among them, one individual seems to differ from the rest of the group. His name is Fred, and at first glance, he is a rather banal and quite sympathetic animal. However, he has one particularity: he is observant and curious.
Instead of going fishing like his peers, Fred studies his environment. Also, he is less interested in family life than other penguins. Yet he takes care of his family, but his passion often leads him to isolate himself from the group. Although his companions appreciate him, they know he is concerned about the contents of a briefcase, which never leaves his side.
In fact, this suitcase contains all of his observations, and they are increasingly alarming.
Chapter 2 – The Iceberg is Melting and Might Break
Fred makes more and more alarming discoveries and projects himself into a catastrophic scenario that he now fears. If the iceberg breaks, it will be a disaster, especially in winter. Moreover, if this happens, many members of the colony among whom the youngest will die.
However, Fred feels very lonely because he remembers the well-founded fears of a certain Arnold, fears which isolated him from the group. When he too was worried about the future of the iceberg, he told his fellow penguins. Not only was he not listened to, but all of them are now suspicious of him and discreetly steer clear of him.
Chapter 3 – What Do I Do Now?
The penguin colony has a “Leadership Council” with Louis, the Head Penguin, in charge. This is where ten wise penguins meet regularly to reflect on the organization of the group.
Alice the Determined
Alice is on the Leadership Council; she is a little different from other penguins. Indeed, she is not arrogant and behaves in a very altruistic way with her colleagues. That is why Fred decides to go talk to her to explain his fears.
Like the rest of the colony, she tends to think of Fred’s concerns as being caused by personal issues. Yet she decides to listen to him carefully. Also, Fred offers to take her to see the place that is at the origin of his concerns. It’s happening under the block of ice. Despite the presence of predators, the two penguins take the risk of going to inspect the crack and signs of degradation of the iceberg.
Alice is the most skilled penguin negotiator. However, she is less comfortable with the natural sciences and Fred takes the time to explain the situation to her. He thus explains, icebergs are not just large icicles and are often made up of canals and interior caves. When temperatures rise, water floods the canals and cavities. Then, when the temperature drops, all that water freezes and eventually threatens to shatter the iceberg. With the explanations of Fred, Alice realizes the gravity of the situation and promises to him that she will try to convince the leaders to take the best precautions.
Despite everything, she advises him to remain patient because it is likely that many birds will accuse him of making up stories.
Chapter 4 – Problem? What Problem?
Alice keeps her promise: she informs the members of the Council led by Louis. However, overall, everyone has something else to do rather than listen. They do more bickering, about meeting schedules or the duration of weekly discussions. Alice then suggests inviting Fred to the next meeting. The Head Penguin readily accepts, in particular to satisfy his curiosity. What got Louis to agree to Alice’s proposal was especially because she paid him compliments. His big penguin ego immediately reacted positively.
However, the Head Penguin prefers not to mention Fred’s presence at the next session to avoid last-minute withdrawals. For his part, Fred asks for additional information before his intervention in the Council in order to prepare a suitable speech, as he wants to convince the ten honorable members of the Council, some of whom, he has been warned, are difficult to impress.
During the meetings, there is often a lack of discipline in the group. As such, two of the members love to argue for hours about the veracity of statistics and cause the meetings to be endless and fruitless. Conversely, another penguin is often caught dozing, or even snoring. While a fourth penguin does not understand the numbers and pretends to understand everything; he deeply annoys the others. Finally, two penguins cannot stand when things are explained to them, because they feel they know everything. They therefore believe that it is up to them to instruct the others, regardless of the subject.
To make his point with pedagogy, Fred finally decides to make a model of the iceberg. Of course, without fingers, or gripping thumbs, or hands, the task is not easy, and the result is rather mediocre, but Alice applauds the effort made.
Palpable Tension from the Start
Fred and the members of the Council transport the iceberg model overnight to the meeting place. From the start, they complain because they have to climb onto the highest part of the iceberg and all regret having accepted. Fred then begins to present the results of his research, using the model to illustrate his remarks. The assembly listens to him in silence and Alice confirms to them that she has witnessed the cracks and problems of the iceberg in person.
In the group, a penguin named NoNo, in charge of the weather forecast, tells them that all of this is perfectly normal and that similar signs have been observed for years. He demands Fred to show more convincing evidence for his sightings.
An Intuition Rather Than a Rational Explanation
Fred is forced to admit that he is unable to provide them with evidence, but that the risk is real, and its consequences are dire. At this point, Alice comes to his rescue by alarming the Council members. Do they have an idea of the speech that will then have to be given to parents if the youngest children die in the disaster?
“What will we say to them while they stand before us in grief? That we were hoping that such a tragedy would not happen?”
Time is running out because there are only two months left before the winter period, which is also the most dangerous period. Eventually, all the members of the Council decide to create a reflection committee to analyze the situation more closely. That said, they all agree on the fact that they must avoid creating a wave of panic. As a result, they first think of continuing life as normal without notifying the colony of their investigations. But for Alice, this is not a common problem. Therefore, there is no question of hiding the truth from other members of the community. They must be told.
A Problem More Alarming Than Usual
Once informed, some penguins begin to panic. To create a diversion, Fred offers them an experiment before making a decision.
He goes to look for a glass bottle that his father picked up on the iceberg and explains to them that he is going to fill it with water. The experiment consists in showing that the volume of water increases by freezing. The same as the water inside the iceberg. Thus, if the bottle breaks during the frozen night, this should be a sign that their habitat may suffer the same fate.
Despite NoNo’s opposition, Louis grants Fred the opportunity to perform the experiment. Then, he asks an adorable penguin named Buddy to watch over the bottle until the early hours of the morning. The next day, after a freezing night, the bottle has exploded under the pressure of the expanding water.
The Urgent Need to Convene a General Assembly
Following this, all penguins are invited to participate in a general meeting. No one knows the subject matter. Once the facts are exposed, the leaders show the model and the broken glass bottle. Then, followed by technical explanations of what is likely to happen to the iceberg during the winter because of cracks and cavities. Suddenly all the penguins are stunned. The atmosphere changes in a palpable way.
Louis has the model placed in the center of the colony square so that the penguins keep the problem in mind. Yet fear is also a threat because it can be devastating. Moreover, the only really positive sign at this moment is in the reaction of certain penguins. Many offer their help to find a solution. It’s a good start.
Chapter 5 – I Cannot Do the Job Alone
The next day, Louis, the Head Penguin, receives a pep talk from certain members of the colony advising him to make the necessary decisions himself. Conversely, others suggest that he involve the youngest penguins. However, Louis feels they do not have the required experience. In addition, some of them have a downright bad reputation.
Building a Strong Team
So, to move forward and create a team capable of making the right decisions, Louis decides to bring together the most competent penguins. Thus, he summons Alice, Buddy, Fred, and Jordan, a penguin who, if there was a university, would probably be a teacher there. In fact, he is nicknamed “the Professor”. In reality, the Head Penguin has a specific idea in mind: forming the best team to meet the challenge. He believes the five of them have the skills to successfully save the iceberg.
Five Complementary Penguins
Jordan, the cultivated penguin, thinks in silence. In fact, he compiles a list to highlight each person’s qualities. And here are his first conclusions:
- Louis: experienced, a little conservative and respected.
- Alice: has a strong character, always achieves her goals and considers everyone equally.
- Buddy: adorable, not ambitious, not very intelligent, but loved by all.
- Fred: very creative and curious, has a nice beak, has affinities with the youngest of the clan.
- Me, Jordan: logical, educated, always up to solving problems.
It thus appears that the five chosen members constitute a strong group that is willing to act immediately.
Louis asks everyone to think carefully before committing. He reassures them, they do not have to accept. However, everyone responds positively to the proposal.
Close Your Eyes
After spending much of the day together becoming lost in vain considerations, the team is forced to realize that solutions will not come by themselves. It is then that Louis the Head Penguin gets an idea: he asks everyone to close their eyes for a minute. Then, he tells them to indicate, still with their eyes closed, where east is. Opening their eyes, they are surprised to see that they are all pointing their fins in a different direction. It is a way of realizing that it is important to get on the same wavelength to move forward effectively.
Squid Fishing: A Group Activity
As lunchtime approaches, Louis suggests that the group of five go squid fishing. These creatures are exceptional delicacies for penguins but are not caught easily. To be more effective, the penguins must then proceed in groups. They are impressively skillful in the water and are able to stay under for several minutes without coming up. Together, they then manage to catch a huge amount of fish and, thanks to their involvement as a group, all get enough to eat.
Remain United to be More Efficient
The afternoon continues with an unusual activity: everyone now discusses this and that, their aspirations, or their dreams. Usually, penguins do not exchange much with each other. This change in behavior completely disconcerts the Professor who diligently deciphers, with his analytical mind, these interactions. He knows that it is very difficult to let go of one’s bad habits.
Chapter 6 – The Seagull
The five members of the decision-making group have only one month to find a solution to their habitat problem related to the melting ice. Moreover, Alice thinks that it is necessary to recruit other brains and widen the group to new members.
Many, but Not So Good Ideas
While one penguin suggests digging a hole up to the cave to release the water pressure, the others explain that it would take too long. Another penguin thinks it is more efficient to look for a flawless iceberg that can safely shelter them.
Another idea is to move the colony to central Antarctica, but others think that would take them too far away from food. Then comes the turn of another penguin who offers to make glue from orca grease to repair the cracks.
Finally, an older penguin gives them some valuable advice:
“Maybe you should do what Fred did when he found out about our terrible problem. Walk and roam about with eyes and a mind wide open. Be curious.”
Conquering the World
Willing to follow the advice of wisdom, the team begins to scour the iceberg to explore it. As they walk west, the five protagonists discover new landscapes and meet families with the same concerns as them. Then, looking up, they see a strange animal that does not usually fly above their heads. This bird is fascinating because it behaves in a very different way from others of its species.
Thinking a bit, they come to a conclusion: this bird must have a home, otherwise it will freeze in one night. Or, it is what the penguins call a nomad, that is to say a creature living according to habits very different from theirs.
What a Strange Animal!
This prospect of radically changing lifestyle is a real eye-opener. In fact, the five penguins all want to know more about this flying bird. The decision is unanimous: they absolutely have to talk to this strange animal to know how it operates. And when they finally find it, Buddy is ideally suited to accost it with gentleness and care.
This is how the bird, the seagull, tells the five penguins about its role as scout, essential for the survival of its clan. It also describes to them what its group eats and how they live. Then, very quickly, it becomes chilled and must fly away so as not to freeze in place.
Another Way of Living is Possible
As soon as the seagull leaves, everyone gets together. Alice finds this meeting very interesting. Of course, penguins are very different from these little birds, but they can learn from their experience.
They simply need to realize that nothing is everlasting and that many other solutions are available to them. It will be difficult to admit after so many years of routine, but it is definitely important to make a change in mentality. Their future depends on it.
The Professor, meanwhile, remains thoughtful. How come nobody noticed the problems of the iceberg before. A new theory germinates within his mind. Perhaps the degradation of the ice island is due to a sudden and recent phenomenon?
Chapter 7 – Getting the Message Out
The next day, the time has come to let the others know and the penguins decide to communicate their recent discoveries. For this, Jordan the Professor has prepared a series of slides in order to present the facts to the whole community.
Louis, the Head Penguin, is convinced that the Professor’s presentation is a true masterpiece. However, he decides to introduce his remarks with a little more finesse, because, as he is aware, the audience is not very smart.
The idea is to take a bit of a dig at their self-esteem and make them say what Louis expects from them. Thus, with skillful questions, he leads them towards a questioning full of common sense and of which they cannot disapprove. It’s about discussing the importance of discipline, love for their children and brotherhood. At the end of the speech, the penguins feel that they have come up with the ideas themselves.
Do We Absolutely Have to Live Here?
Then, Louis cuts to the chase: living well does not depend on location. Afterwards, he passes the floor to Buddy, who is appreciated by all, to get to the point, mentioning their encounter with the seagull. The cutest penguin tells them about the life of this strange animal. The freedom of its colony gave them ideas to reconsider their way of life. However, although Buddy is quite the talented storyteller, at the end of his speech, the reactions remain mixed. Some penguins cannot imagine that a bird can fly. For others, the notion of freedom is quite new. Finally, the smartest penguins remain silent.
Louis insists that they too can live on another iceberg and that its disappearance does not mean the end of their existence.
A Fresh Start
Not all of them seem convinced but seem to be listening to the message. At the end of the meeting, Alice calls Buddy, Fred, and the Professor to present them an idea. She thinks it would be good to create posters to help others keep in mind that a decision would have to be made soon.
Every day, the most creative penguins come up with new slogans. They also put them under water so that the penguins can read them while going fishing. The penguins decide to begin and lead speaking groups. Gradually, many penguins open up to new perspectives, though not all are yet convinced. Despite everything, a big step forward has been taken.
Chapter 8 – Good News and Bad News
In the days that follow, a lot of things happen on the iceberg. Some good, some bad and some rather embarrassing or unexpected:
- The good: increasing energy emanates from the iceberg.
- The rather good: several of the youngest penguins offer their services as scouts.
- The not so good: the NoNo penguin and the most pessimistic ones circulate false information that dampens general enthusiasm.
- The mysterious: the usually kind teacher tells terrible stories to the younglings who then have terrible nightmares.
- The not at all mysterious but very embarrassing: Council members argue over who should take the place of the Head Scout.
- The very bad news: exploring the territories takes a long time and they have to eat. However, penguins only fish for themselves and their children, never for a fellow creature.
Enthusiasm Undermined by Convinced Pessimists
Critics, including the NoNo penguin, are rubbing their hands: not everything will be so easy, and they welcome it. Young Amanda, a very invested planner, slowly becomes discouraged. Indeed, as the days go by, her husband begs her to gain perspective and her little penguin begin to have frightening dreams. Finally, the food problem concerning the scouts becomes a reality.
An Urgent Need to React
NoNo continues to speak ill to the entire colony. They must counteract him, and quickly. Thus, it is decided that the Professor will follow him all day long on the iceberg. Since he cannot stand his convoluted rhetoric, NoNo is reduced to trying to run away from him. Consequently, he can no longer spread his distressing messages.
Now That’s Enough!
Louis is aware that some of his fellow penguins want to take the place of Head Scout. He directly calls on them to stop this race for power. Alice, being more diplomatic, highlights the benefits of certain executive penguins for the safeguard of the colony. The most resistant penguins are surprised to find this new organization interesting.
Reassuring the Teacher
At this point in the story, Buddy proposes to go and meet the teacher, whom he finds completely depressed. Upset, she reveals her worries to him. She is convinced that with all these changes, kindergarten will disappear. Then, as she is getting older, she fears that they will do without her services. Buddy, the nicest of the penguins, reassures her by telling her that it will be the opposite. Children will need to learn even more in a constantly changing world. As he is patient and reassuring, the teacher begins to become less anxious.
While NoNo can no longer harm the group, the teacher begins to tell wonderful stories to the children. Thus, the nightmares stop, and some children even play the role of mediator without realizing it.
One day, Alice crosses paths with little Rosalie who loved the teacher’s stories about heroes helping their own overcome challenges. The young female penguin wants to become one of these heroes, but she doesn’t know how. Alice then tells her that all she has to do is go back to her parents and explain to them that they must feed the scouts. That will be enough to make her a hero.
Becoming a Hero
The following days, little Rosalie shares with her many friends these ideas to suggest to all parents of the iceberg. Moved by these positions, the teacher creates a “Day of tribute to our heroes.” Some adults view this with somewhat concern. Until now, all penguins and even fewer children had the right to speak. It is an important first and the little ones are delighted.
Chapter 9 – The Scouts
Louis, the Council Leader wants to take advantage of the almost general enthusiasm and he believes that they must select the best scouts. He is determined to show everyone in the colony that things are about to change.
The Day of Tribute to Our Heroes
The idea inspired by little Rosalie, the “Day of tribute to our heroes”, has gained ground: it takes the form of a large festival with a raffle draw, shows and even a flea market. The entry price is set at two fish per adult. Some penguins are skeptical but are ultimately happy that their children are taking action in favor of the community. Then, peer pressure does its job, and soon the whole colony agrees to participate in the event. They decide to schedule this day as the day of the scout’s return. This way, they can enjoy a good meal when they come back from their long journey.
Medals for Heroes
Upon their return, the scouts are exhausted, some injured, but so happy to share their findings. The penguins provide them with a nursing station. The scouts can then eat. Finally, they tell about the new icebergs discovered during their long voyage at sea.
Rosalie’s friends have made ribbons and medals cut out of ice with the inscription “HEROES.” Louis offers Rosalie the famous bottle used for the frozen water experiment. In doing so, he wishes to pay tribute to the young female penguin because she demonstrated unprecedented civic spirit and imagination.
That evening, the penguins continue the discussions late into the night. While the more hesitant members begin to believe, those who are already convinced become even more optimistic. As for NoNo, he is as discreet as possible.
Chapter 10 – The Second Wave
The next day, Louis calls the scouts together to ask them to give him a precise account of what they saw. He wants to know if there is an iceberg large enough and well placed to suit the life of the community. It will also have to be not too far away so that the old and the young will be able to reach it.
Heroes’ Day triggered many penguins to take up the calling and volunteer to be scouts. In fact, it is planned to conduct a second wave of research to validate the findings of the first outing.
According to Alice, they must hold out and not lower their guard because many members of the colony are starting to think that the move can wait another year. Together, the members of the Council develop a list of essential characteristics for their next place of life.
The Ideal Iceberg
The list of criteria for the ideal iceberg is as follows:
- A piece of ice without cracks or internal caves.
- Presence of a large wall of snow to shelter from storms.
- Location in a thriving fishing area.
- It should be located on a route allowing penguins to take breaks during the journey.
The new scouts leave, accompanied by the Professor, responsible for validating the capacity of the new iceberg to welcome them.
The Fixed Moving Day
The iceberg is found. As the Antarctic winter approaches, they decide to set the move for May 12. There are a few incidents but, ultimately, all the penguins arrive safely. In the same way, Louis is more and more respected, while Buddy continues to reassure the most worried penguins and to calm the hysterical ones.
Winter passes without too much trouble. However, it is difficult to fish in unfamiliar areas with new and unpredictable winds. They then decide to look for a more suitable iceberg and the scouts set off again towards the unknown.
The following season, a second move is scheduled to gain a larger living space, located in waters full of fish. Of course, this second change is less stressful than the first.
Chapter 11 – The Most Remarkable Change
Despite some tough and well-established traditions, the penguins continue to evolve. Alice, Rosalie, and the scouts are determined to continue their efforts:
- Louis considers revamping the “Leadership Council” to include the bravest penguins.
- Scouts are now recruited according to well-defined criteria and benefit from more fish as a work bonus.
- New subjects have been added to the children’s school curriculum and the Professor now holds the post of Chief Meteorologist.
- Fred becomes the Head Scout.
- Buddy remains the modest penguin he was at the start of the adventure.
A Sustainable Colony
Louis retires and Alice succeeds him with a slightly more balanced way of presiding. The colony is now bigger and better able to face the difficulties it encounters.
However, some penguins are still a little reluctant to change. But, overall, they find a certain balance between what they have learned and the new rules. Finally, Grandfather Louis becomes the favorite storyteller of the children who all ask him to tell the story of the Great Change.
Although, initially, the old penguin is afraid to sound like somebody overly nostalgic of the past, he quickly realizes that this story has a significant impression on the young penguins of the colony. Thanks to this story, the little penguins gather positive momentum to take on the changes necessary for the well-being of the flock.
With an army of powerful and determined volunteers, the colony now has something to look to the future, with greater confidence. And the former Head Penguin, Louis, is quite proud of this!
End of the history of penguins, but not of the book “Our Iceberg is Melting“
Part two of “Our Iceberg is Melting”: The 8 Steps of Successful Change
Chapter 12 – Eight Steps to Change Under Any Conditions
The Penguin Fable Converted to an Organization
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber start this second part of “Our Iceberg is Melting” by inviting all those who already have plenty of ideas that foster change to take action. For the others, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber present here several avenues to explore in order to achieve collective change.
- First, we can ask ourselves which penguin we are most like and realize how important we can be in a process of change. We will certainly come across NoNos who will try to curb our enthusiasm, but we will also come across other people willing to put all their strength into a project of global change.
- Then, we can convert the penguin story and their aging iceberg to many cases of organizations that suffer from obsolescence or mismanagement. This may relate to teaching and education, food or other misguided strategies in the trade sector. All successful businesses have figured out how to manage change in order to thrive and succeed according to their own characteristics. To do the same, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber invite us to ask ourselves if, around us, there is not also:
- A Fred to alert us to possible problems?
- An Alice bursting with energy and conviction to make her message heard?
Thus, by objectively evaluating our own situation, we will be able to apply the eight steps necessary to achieve positive change.
Setting the Scene
- Step 1 – Create a sense of urgency : This is about triggering a dynamic by explaining the need to act immediately. If necessary, it is good to use concrete examples to be more explicit.
- Step 2 – Bring together the leadership team : It is imperative to entrust the responsibility for the main decisions to credible people with a great capacity for communication. It is equally important to entrust the analysis of the situation to a competent member in order to get off to a good start.
Deciding What to Do
- Step 3 – Develop the vision and strategy for change: We need to explain what the future will bring and how it will benefit the whole group. It is useful to use a figure equivalent to that of the seagull to define a guide.
Starting the Movement
- Step 4 – Communicate to make people understand and believe : It is more important to convince others than to force them to follow you. For this, it is worth using various and adapted communication channels.
- Step 5 – Give others the power to act: Scouts must be given the opportunity to act without constraint, because it is they who will bring innovations that foster change.
- Step 6 – Produce short-term victories: To advance faster and further, it is necessary to highlight all the small, accumulated successes. By celebrating these successes, we can set new goals and reward those who have advanced change.
- Step 7 – Persevere: In order to continue to progress and make the business prosper, it is necessary to remove unnecessary meetings that are holding back growth. Next, set goals high enough to motivate the forces.
Making It Viable
- Step 8 – Create a new culture: To get innovative results adapted to the new organization, it is necessary to promote initiatives, if they are productive. Little by little, the new rules will replace the old traditional ways of doing things. Finally, we must never forget to reward the best members and to include the processes of change in the training part of the structure.
Chapter 13 – The Power of Group Discussions
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber emphasize the importance of communication between colleagues in order to progress together. It is especially imperative to have discussions, to know if we have the same vision of things. This will allow us to adjust our way of doing things.
The authors also encourage getting your colleagues to read “Our Iceberg is Melting” to then meet and discuss it. Here are excerpts from discussions that John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber have transcribed to give us a concrete idea of how it goes in meetings.
Case 1: Icebergs sometimes melt very slowly.
The first group meeting builds on the discussion of people from the same company. While one of the participants asks if there has been an iceberg in jeopardy in the company, a person tells him that there were signs but that they were so discreet that they were not taken seriously: steadily declining but very slow customer satisfaction.
Another commenter adds that the penguins had the same concern but benefited from Fred’s expert eye to uncover the crack. To which one participant replies that in the company too, there were people who knew how to put their finger on the danger to come. However, their voices were not heard and ended up being discouraged.
Case 2: Do not be satisfied with the people who are there: assemble those we need.
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber emphasize here the quality with which a manager has been able to lead a team towards change. All the participants in the meeting agree on the fact that the manager has chosen particularly well the members for bringing success.
One of the participants takes the floor to explain that this woman named Cara looked a lot like Louis and that she had a certain George to take Alice’s place. Then, each one has their little say by assigning a penguin profile to each member of the group. When they finally wonder if there is a NoNo among them, they all turn to the same person, laughing.
Moreover, favoring exchanges with humor and without cynicism is an excellent idea for conveying important messages.
Case 3 – And the first enemy of change is…?
During this discussion between colleagues, one of them asks the others if they have in mind an example that they would qualify as a bitter failure. So, they all agree to designate a project that fell apart, probably because the sense of urgency was not sufficiently shared.
Likewise, they agree on the fact that communication had not been up to the task of convincing the most reluctant people. Thus, the main discussions took place between the leaders, without including the many participants in the project. If, on the contrary, those in charge had been able to better share their discoveries and the framework to be explored, they could certainly have counted on many more motivated volunteers.
Case 4 – Change that does not feed off itself is not change.
In this last example, “Our Iceberg is Melting” addresses the challenge of sustaining change. In many cases, the protagonists of the experience fall very quickly into their pitfalls. Old habits are tough, and you have to really struggle on a daily basis not to slip into a routine. Moreover, what worked in the past may not necessarily be applicable in today’s circumstances. During major change, exceptional processes should be considered in order to encourage people to embrace the new way of working.
Often, the initial exchanges around the penguin fable in “Our Iceberg is Melting” cause a feeling of discomfort in adults, moreover in a professional setting. But John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber explain to us that, quickly, people talk, and discussions are enriched leading to very encouraging avenues of work.
Chapter 14 – Questions and Answers with the Authors
In this last chapter, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber engage in a question-and-answer game, presented in the form of an interview.
We learn that the last edition was reworked ten years after the release of the original version. Additionally, John Kotter claims he has observed enough societal changes to warrant an update of certain parts.
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber agree that changes within companies seem to be accelerating, in all sectors. And Holger Rathgeber readily admits, even he is not necessarily armed to weather these profound upheavals. It is therefore with this in mind that the latest version of “Our Iceberg is Melting” has been written, with more concrete advice to apply. Also, valuable lessons helping to undergo significant change were added.
The story stays the same while adapting to the changing world
Changes made in the latest edition of “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber are insignificant and subtle. Regular users may not see them. Only a few lines have found a legitimate place where others have been reduced. Simply, the authors set out to adapt the story to the accelerating evolution of everyday life, for example by integrating new passages. This is the case with the intervention of Buddy when he tries to reassure the penguins.
The fable: a wonderful learning tool
John Kotter is convinced; the fable is an excellent medium to encourage men to change, probably because stories told to children have existed since the dawn of time. And with the animal fable, if the characters are sympathetic, the message is even easier to get across. Moreover, Holger Rathgeber indicates that he tested the method of the fable in many meetings and this is how he got the idea to propose it to John Kotter.
Finally, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber wish to point out that this story is the result of several decades of work and reflection on change.
A reissue also fueled by recent discoveries
In this latest edition of “Our Iceberg is Melting“, the notion of urgency has been further emphasized because it seems to be a real driver for countering complacency. However, scaring people is useless, and it is more productive to highlight the opportunities available for evolving.
Likewise, it is now evident that, to obtain results, the involvement of many members is necessary. A small group cannot carry change without losing steam and becoming discouraged.
Finally, without being complacent, it is essential to discuss achievements, no matter if they are at times negligible and unnoticeable.
Penguins, fascinating creatures, perfect for conveying essential messages
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber admit to having chosen the penguins in keeping with the book by John Kotter “Leading Change”, which already illustrated points with these animals. Further, they are creatures with whom we identify quite easily.
Among the lessons that the authors want us to take away, the place of leadership is essential. Indeed, at all levels of a company, there are people ready to seize opportunities and take action without being intimidated.
Soon a sequel with meerkats
John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber wrote a sequel to “Our Iceberg is Melting”. The book is called “That’s Not How We Do It Here!”. It alludes to even more recent discoveries and is addressed to all who are ready to do their part to create a future where change will always be present.
Conclusion of “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
A reference book for change management
World bestseller, “Our Iceberg is Melting” is today an essential book on organizational change:
- First, because its authors are benchmarks themselves: John Kotter is an internationally recognized expert in change and one of the founders of Kotter International, a consulting firm in the field of change within companies and leadership. Holger Rathgeber, a former head of an international company, is a consultant at Kotter International and regularly speaks alongside John Kotter.
- Second, because at a time of great upheavals which continue to accelerate, “Our Iceberg is Melting” enlightens us on our resistance to change and offers us a guide for reflection and accessible management to get though it successfully.
A fun and educational way to learn the concepts of change
In “Our Iceberg is Melting”, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber teach us the basics of successful change in a fun and accessible way, with humor and insight. John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber have fun putting penguins in a dangerous situation to observe their reactions and transpose the situations and roles of each in our own professional organizations. By allowing us to draw parallels so easily with the corporate world, this easy-to-read fable makes for an effective learning process. It is further complemented by an eight-step change model explained clearly and methodically.
The key messages of “Our Iceberg is Melting” for achieving collective change
The awareness, risk, and position of the protagonists in John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber’s penguin story help us to project ourselves into a perspective of change as a group. More specifically, the story enables us to understand:
- How to proceed in order to fully grasp the area of change.
- That the notion of urgency and of a group is essential.
- That good ideas can emerge at all levels of responsibility and that it is important to think about the different directions all together.
- The benefits of humor when it is free of cynicism because it allows to convey important messages lightly.
“Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber is a book that I recommend for its simplicity and concept of effective learning in everything related to handling change management in business.
- The parallel between the group of penguins and a collective of men makes it possible to see things from a certain distance.
- The book is written very simply, with some nice touches of humor.
- The eight steps for change are self-explanatory, easy to understand and apply to the functioning of all groups.
- At times during the reading we have the impression that the content is somewhat lacking. This is no longer the case when we come to the end of “Our Iceberg is Melting”, because the advice given takes on its full meaning.
My rating :
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