Fables have a deceptive power. On the surface they read like the stories of our childhood employing simple vocabulary to describe everyday contexts to which we can all relate. Their narrative structure lulls our adult brain into a false sense of security, disabling the rational analytical faculties that usually protect our cherished world view. We uncritically play along with the story until we reach the point where the fable's inner truth is unavoidable. So it is with John Kotter's Our Iceberg is Melting.
Our Iceberg is Melting presents as a children's book: it is in large print with colourful illustrations - a six year old probably would enjoy it, if he had the patience to sit for the 45 minutes it takes to read. It is the story of an Emperor Penguin colony faced with a potentially devastating problem that is threatening their home. Fred, a low-ranking quirky penguin discovers that the iceberg on which the colony has lived for unknown generations is melting and is likely to fracture. The story charts how a small group lead the colony through the process of coming up with a solution and effecting their plan.
As well written as it is, Kotter is no children's author. A Harvard Business School professor, he is one of the world's experts and best-selling author on leadership and change. "Our Iceberg is Melting is a simple fable about doing well in an ever-changing world" and the characters that we meet in Our Iceberg is Melting are 'types' that are found in every organisation. The tale "is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles and the most clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles" (quotes from dust jacket).
Our Iceberg is Melting is a powerful illustration of Kotter's Eight Step Process of Successful Change outlined in his book Leading Change:
- Create a sense of urgency. Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.
- Pull together the guiding team. Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change - one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and a sense of urgency.
- Develop the change, vision and strategy. Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.
- Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and strategy.
- Empower others to act. Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.
- Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible.
- Don't let up. Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.
- Create a new culture. Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old traditions.