Managing Change With Inspiring Books – I Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter

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Much like the rest of the world, most of us are shaken out of our comfort zone as nothing seems to work the way it should. Amidst testing times, how do we carry on? What is the best way to manage change, embrace the new reality and stay focused on our vision and purpose?The answers to some of these questions lie in a business book called Our Iceberg is Melting by John P Kotter which help us understand the process of change through a meaningful parable that features penguins and then highlights useful strategies. This reminds me of the famous Panchatantra and Jataka tales of our own Indian folklore that brought out some beautiful life lessons through simple animal stories.


This book is set among Emperor penguins who are happily living in their home in an iceberg. And they seem to have lived here as far back as they can remember. So its their home and their grandfathers home and always was and always will be, or so they thought


Except that there is a sort of catastrophe of sorts building up without their knowledge. It is Fred, an observant and curious penguin who first notices that their iceberg seems to be melting. Alarmed, he decides to talk to Alice, a penguin who is always practical and no-nonsense and gives good advice.While it is a relief for Fred to be able to share the bad news, they are still wondering how to be sure their theory and assumptions are correct. Before they decide go forward and speak to others, they decide on conducting an experiment by taking a bottle, sealing it and putting it in the iceberg. If their fears are true, the bottle would crack or break. Next morning, the bottle is broken proving that their nightmare could come true anytime as their home had become increasingly fragile.


They call a general assembly to inform the rest of their tribe and this is where we see so many similarities with organizations and people as penguins fret and fume and worry like anyone of us! why should we create panic? Let’s keep it a secret? Worrying is bad?


Despite these rants, they finally realize that they need to do something quite urgently thus bringing us to Lesson 1 which is, create a sense of urgency. Lesson 2 follows almost immediately as they decide to put together a guiding team which consists of Louis, Fred, Alice, Buddy and Professor. All this time they find it hard to ignore NoNo – a weather forecasting Penguin who is always blamed for being wrong but also realize that the voice of dissent can be one of caution as well.


As they search for a strategy, the spot a seagull flying and wonder, it looks lost but not afraid, is it that moving from one place to another is the way it lives? This is where they start exploring the possibility of moving and come to Lesson 3: Develop a Change Vision & a Strategy.


Their strategy is focused on exploration and they decide to send out young and enthusiastic scout penguins to look for a new iceberg. While the scouts are excited and happy to help, they need to continuously educate, motivate and practice Lesson 4: Communicate for Understanding & Buy In. While work is in progress, detractors are never far and there is continuous lobbying with many people trying to disturb the system but they managed to keep their spirits and energies up while motivating and inspiring people, thus exemplifying Lesson 5: Empower others to act and press ahead.


A perfect iceberg was found and they were ready to move but they refused to take it easy and continued to celebrate successes with Lesson 6: Produce Short Term Wins. It is easy to relax when things are going as per plan to it requires effort to practice Lesson 7: Don’t let up and keep pressing harder and faster after the first success. Even after they found the perfect iceberg, they knew they may need to keep moving because they had created a new culture which was nomadic thus coming to the final Lesson 8: Create a new culture .


The book is simple and visually appealing with illustrations and a very basic story line and yet the lessons are deep, insightful and meaningful. Just as the penguins managed to create a new culture, so can we adapt to the new reality and create a new culture.

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