77 of 87 people found the following review helpful
Fables have been used to illustrate problem solving, among many other things, for hundreds of years. Remember Aesop's fables? Several years ago, Kenneth Blanchard successfully re-introduced using fables to teach problem solving techniques with his book, Who Moved My Cheese. John Kotter replicated that method of instruction with this fun little book, OUR ICEBERG IS MELTING. As with the aforementioned work, I believe this one will garner similar acclaim.
Kotter's engaging story introduces the 8 principles of problem solving. This can be used in a variety of venues from business, church, child raising, sports, etc. Kotter illustrates how the penguins, faced with a tumultuous dilemma, identified the problem, created urgency, developed a team-building structure, and stepped outside the box. Along the way, the story is entertaining and includes a diverse array of skepticism, cynicism and other challenges that we all face.
The book is also very well illustrated and can easily be read in a couple of hours. It is also readable for almost any age level and would probably make a good reading lesson for children as well. They will certainly be entertained, if not captivated by the illustrations and side notes. Well done.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Although fables have been written and shared for many centuries dating back at least to Aesop (said to have lived as a slave in Samos around 550 B.C.), it has been only in recent years that the business narrative in the form of a fable has become popular, notably with the publication of Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson who wrote the Foreword to this volume, co-authored by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. I was amused when noting its subtitle, "Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions," having seen the Luc Jacquet's documentary film March of the Penguins, co-produced by Bonne Pioche and the National Geographic Society, in which the Emperor Penguins and those who filmed them endured (and most of the penguins survived) temperatures around the French scientific base of Dumont d'Urville in Antarctica that fell to -80° Fahrenheit. How many human enterprises could function under such conditions?
Kotter and Rathgeber offer a fable in which the central character, an Emperor Penguin named Fred, struggles without much success to convince his colony's Leadership Council that his research statistics indicate "the shrinking of the size of their home, the canals, the caves filled with water, the number of fissures, causing by [their iceberg's] melting." If they do not relocate to another iceberg soon....
What happens next is best revealed by Kotter and Rathgeber within their narrative. They are brilliant storytellers who first introduce their lead characters, and create a situation, then identify conflicts that build tension as the plot develops, until its conclusion (sort of). As with George Orwell in Animal Farm, their primary purpose, however, is not to entertain but to instruct. As they explain, "Our goal in writing Our Iceberg Is Melting was to draw upon the incredible power of good stories to influence behavior over time - making individuals and their groups more competent in handling change and producing better results."
Specifically, to use their story to illustrate "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change" that Kotter introduced in his book Leading Change (1996). In a sequel to it, The Heart of Change (2002), he and Dan Cohen examine "the core problem people face in all of those steps, and how to successfully deal with the problem." And the central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. "All these elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people's feelings." (Those who do that effectively have what Daniel Goleman characterizes as "emotional intelligence.") Kotter and Cohen structure this book around the eight steps "because that is how people experience the process. There is a flow in a successful change effort, and the chapters follow that flow."
Fred follows "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change" (without identifying it as such, of course) and achieves at least some temporary success but Kotter and Rathgeber leave no doubt in their reader's mind that change is a never-ending process rather than an ultimate destination. Precisely the same barriers that Fred encounters are certain to reappear when the Leadership Council is called upon to consider other proposed changes when the colony seems threatened. In many (if not most) organizations today, their decision-makers are facing one or more meltdowns of various kinds (sales, profits, ROI, attrition of valued employees, client and/or market share, etc.). What Kotter and Rathgeber recommend in their business fable is, effect, a framework by which to understand and then respond effectively to whatever challenges may appear, challenges that require changes of what is done and (especially) how it is done, so that these organizations can succeed "under any conditions."
I presume to offer a specific suggestion when concluding this brief commentary: Purchase a copy of this book for each of several key people and then bring together to discuss it in ways and to the extent that Fred and his colony are relevant to the given enterprise...but don't stop there. Take full advantage of this opportunity to formulate, together, a plan by which to institutionalize "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change." To repeat, beneficial change is an on-going, never-ending process and has one requirement more important than any other: adapt or perish.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2010
In Our Iceberg Is Melting, Harvard professor John Kotter and co-author Holger Rathgeber tell the story of a colony of penguins who are facing change. The story is written in fable format similar to Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson.
An astute penguin named Fred observes that the iceberg the colony lives on is melting and that they will face potential disaster if it breaks apart in the middle of winter. He proceeds to present his findings to Alice, a member of the leadership council. Once the need for action is realized, there is no small amount of squabbling amongst the council as to next steps.
They eventually determine to let the rest of the colony know of the great risks and solicit ideas for solutions. After arriving at a creative solution through interactions with a seagull, they implement a migratory initiative to seek out new icebergs. The change is not without detractors who question the findings and argue for maintaining the status quo without addressing the risks of the melting iceberg. However, through strong leadership of the head penguin and a small action team, the penguins drove efforts to eventually relocate to a safer home.
The story has multiple examples of personalities seen commonly in organizations. There are those who are interested in arguing for the sake of arguing, the cautious, the hard driving but consensus building leaders, the creative but sometimes ignored penguins, the naysayers, those being academic in mindset but who ask tough questions, and those who just want everyone to be happy, among others.
Kotter and Rathgeber use the story to demonstrate an eight step process of successful change which includes:
1. Create a Sense of Urgency
2. Pull Together a Guiding Team
3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy
4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy In
5. Empower Others to Act
6. Produce Short-term Wins
7. Don't Let Up
8. Make It Stick
The book is fun, has great change management principles, and can be read in no more than an hour or so. While change for change's sake is not necessarily wise, for those in any organization facing challenges, this book provides easy to understand concepts for managing change.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2009
I thought "Who Moved My Cheese" was a simple, but insightful book. Our Iceberg Is Melting is just not worth the 45 min it takes to read... especially for anyone that has already read his prior work such as Who Moved My Cheese. It feels like they just wanted to crank out another book, with as little effort as possible. I'm not sure why so many people rated this book so high... I can only conclude that they are completely new to such concepts or have never read other books on the subject. I know a great appeal of the book is the short length and easy to read style, but do yourself a favor and just get Who Moved My Cheese, and if you already read that, invest the 45 min of your time in something else, anything else... even a nice nap.
49 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2010
This is a children's book, and I read it in thirty minutes. The "lessons" are so simple that you won't need any extra time digesting them. The funny thing is, this book is aimed at adults, and not just any adults, but the kind of adults who want to be leaders or agents of change. Ha!
Yes, it's a problem solving fable, but not ordinary problems: Catastrophic, life-threatening problems. I suppose that you could modify the eight steps to solve ordinary problems, but even then it's too elementary to be useful.
Step number one is to create a sense of urgency in other people. In this fable, one penguin had to convince the other penguins that their home was doomed to destruction and many of them, especially the old and the young, would die if they didn't heed his warnings and take drastic action immediately. You see, these penguins had been living on an iceberg for many generations; indeed, it was the only homeland that any of them had ever known or heard about. But one curious penguin had discovered evidence that their iceberg was cracking and melting. The evidence was on the underside of the iceberg, easy enough to see if any penguin cared to look. The curious penguin was convinced that their home would break into little pieces within a couple of months, right in the middle of the dark and stormy winter season. Once the first step is accomplished (i.e. everyone is now convinced of doom and feeling panic), the next seven steps follow simple logic, such as building teamwork, coming up with possible solutions, etc. Yes, as with any decent children's story, this one has a happy ending. The penguins solve their problem by becoming nomads, moving from one healthy iceberg to the next.
Well, what can we take from this fable, then? If the iceberg is a metaphor for the Earth, shall the human race consider becoming galactic nomads and move from one good planet to another? These penguins didn't have to fix anything, or learn how to get along with each other, or learn how to share and use resources, or how to create a sustainable existence. All they had to do was move to another place (which, by the way, is precisely what the Europeans did when they came to the "New World"). And there was an endless supply of great places to move to, without the conflict of moving to a place that was already occupied by other penguins. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the human race could just pack up and, after a day or two of travel, arrive on another unspoiled Earth that had no other humans?
And how does this fable work for more ordinary problems? Let's say that you, a junior employee, think your company is going in the wrong direction. Okay, so you are first supposed to create a sense of urgency within your company: You try to convince fellow key employees that the company will fail under its present leadership. I can just hear The Donald yelling, "You're Fired!"
But really, how can this story help with the serious problems we are facing today? Did the Bush administration read this book, and did they tell us about WMD in Iraq in order to create a sense of urgency, so we could "solve" the problem of terrorism? Or, did Al Gore read this book, and is he right about the catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change? Ah, but if only the evidence was as clear, and the solution as easy, as in this fable! That is where this fable fails to deliver: Defining complex problems is tremendously more difficult than this fable implies, and creating and implementing solutions is more difficult still. OF COURSE we have to define the problem, find solutions, and have good leadership and teamwork to implement it! But in the real world, it's easier said than done, and this fable doesn't help at all with how to do it. In fact, I think that this fable hurts more than it helps, encouraging people, whatever their beliefs, to try to create a sense of urgency in other people, and to take quick, drastic action. That kind of thinking can get us involved in unnecessary wars and using "enhanced interrogation techniques." It can even create suicide bombers. Think about it.
Bottom line: I think that a 5-year-old kid, and an adult, would learn more about business, leadership, and group dynamics from Sesame Street.
P.S. This book has now been out for 4 years and is still available only in the more expensive hardback edition. I'd like to convince the author of the URGENT! need to publish a less expensive paperback edition, because young kids don't have so much money to spend on books. Suggestion: Make a manga edition! :-)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2006
John Kotter has given change agents like me a great manual to introduce the concepts of change to a board audience. As a professed change agent who has worked in the academic and public sector for over 40 years, I have found this little book and its story to be an extremely powerful teaching tool. The penguin and iceberg metaphors work and resonates with even the most sophisticated audiences. I have used this book in conjunctions with workshops on change in the area of patient safety to health care professionals and it is a powerful story. Having grown up professionally with Everett Rogers and diffusion of innovation and other planned change models, I have found this small book a very practical tool to convey the complex issues around change.
Our Iceberg is Melting is a must read for change agents or anyone hoping to bring about change in their organization.
Long live the Penguins
James B. Battles, Ph.D.
A professed change agent and proud of it
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2006
"Our Iceberg is Melting" is a unique book that presents some of the key business tools for leadership and change in simple terms that anyone can understand. This fast read gives you take home points to make the necessary changes in your company or even your personal life, in order to gain more success. It's fun to relate the characters in the book to your own company and see how each personality is a vital part in running the business. It's nice to go back to the basics and realize that in order to achieve the leader's goals, the leader should make it a priority to get everyone on the team involved and allow them to feel important.
My company just moved office locations, so the timing was great for me in relating to some of the issues involved with what the penguins experienced in this story. It's refreshing to take a step back and see that it's not about where you are, but the people, values and support that you have around you that matter most.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2014
In this allegorical primer for corporate leadership, now apparently a must-read for university administrators, of all things, we learn how to create an effective leadership team, generate a sense of urgency among the peons--I mean revenue producing units--I mean workers--and dismiss dissenting voices in order to produce magical disrupto-change. It's all working really well until you realize that the course of action the penguins undertake--turning themselves into migratory birds--would completely wipe out an actual penguin colony in a matter of weeks. Read this if you work for a major corporation, or an American university, and want some insight into the rhetoric and tactics of "executive leadership." Or if you're interested in killing off a lot of penguins. Please do not read "Our Iceberg Is Melting" if you're an executive/administrator hoping to add a line or two about "transformative change" to your CV. Really. Your revenue producing units will thank you.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2010
Usually a fan of short easy to read concept books, Our Iceberg is Melting is definitely a disappointment given the outstanding work that John Kotter does in the area of change and change management.
A fable, ok- but if you need to keep interrupting the story with the obvious such as penguins don't have arms, they can't smile or other human non-penguin like traits, perhaps another animal or mammal or even human should have been chosen. The constant references to the fact that we need to use our imaginations was a huge distraction.
Even the section of the book titled "case for the book" (pgs 139-146) is put together better then the entire rest of the book. At least there, he is describing the need for change in a manner relevant to the readers who would be interested in a book on change.
The author is correct in that "fables can be fun" but this one missed the mark.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2013
This is much more about coping with change than driving it. It provides tools to nurse an organization through externally drive change, but does little to help you develop your staff to become change agents. In effect, the hero of fable is in fact the melting iceberg.