Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions - John Kotter

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Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions - John Kotter

This charming story about a penguin colony in Antarctica illustrates key truths about how deal with the issue of change: handle the challenge well and...

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Review of "Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions - John Kotter"

published 07/05/2012 | hiker
Member since : 28/03/2003
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Hope everyone is well...writing elsewhere these days.
Pro Change Management Made Fun
Cons What, with Penguins involved?! None at all
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"I Still Like the Superglue Idea"


If you work in any kind of management capacity these days, you will (by definition) spend most of your time dealing with "change management".

"The only constant is change" will be a phrase you are really sick of hearing by now. Because it doesn't help.

You know what the situation is, but you're having to deal with the fall-out and the lack of buy-in and all that other management-speak stuff that really just adds up to "how am I supposed to deal with all of this on top of the day-job?!!!"

When we were discussing my own organisation at a recent leadership programme workshop (nobody does 'management training' anymore – it's all about 'leadership' now! – here's a thought: we DO still need managers!) – but I digress – when we were discussing my organisation and it's default setting of "this isn't working, let's restructure" the expression "change-weary" came up. Change-fatigue. Too much change.

Well... the only constant is...


What it proves is this: despite the huge amount of work we have been doing on change preparation, change management, creating the vision, entwining the golden thread, etc, etc, etc… we are still missing something somewhere.

We had a few ideas in our work group as to what that might be.

These ideas came out of being sent away into dark corners of a conference centre to read a book.

The book is: Our Iceberg Is Melting.

Now, I might have ideas about spending time in a conference centre reading a book that I could have read on the train on the way over – but hey!

We had to read it. We then had to come back and book-club-fashion do a critique of the book. My sub-group forgot (sorry, "challenged") that part of the process. What we did was to spend the time we should have spent preparing a presentation and writing on flipcharts, talking about where in this process are we, where do we think we're doing ok and where is the blockage, and what can we do about it.

That, for my money, sells the book! I don't need to tell you what it's about, how it works, why it works. All you need to know is that four people from four totally different parts of my business, spent 45 minutes reading the book and immediately understood the concepts, saw which bits of the model we were using, how well we were using them and were straight into "this is the bit we're not quite getting, so how can we". I worried about how we were going to use this book as a tool; it's only later that I realise we already were!

Not convinced?

Ok. Let's talk about the book.


John Kotter is famous in management circles and specialises in change management. He is the 'change guru' at Havard Business School. His real gift to the current management canon is the 8-step change model:

1. Create a sense of urgency

2. Gain allies – or – pull together a guiding team (people of power & influence who can help)

3. Create a vision of the future – define where you want to get to

4. Communicate the vision – sell it, get folk to understand it and buy into it

5. Empower action – you can't do it all yourself, figure out what needs doing, who can do it, give them the authority to do it and then get out of their way

6. Capitalise on the quick-wins – early success reinforces the process, make sure there are some quick wins and publicise them

7. Consolidate the action plan, don't let up, keep it going (most change processes fail because people quit too soon – it won't happen overnight – give it time – keep up the momentum)

8. Embed the new culture. Having got to where you wanted to be, don't sit back, this wasn't a one-off movement, it was the start of a culture of being able to change and change again.

Most of the texts talk about Kotter's 8-step process. Some of the better ones talk of his n-step process, because some of these steps need to go through iterations, repeats, cycles before you can move onto the next one; some may in some circumstances need breaking down into sub-steps. There's nothing magical about the number 8.

I wonder if that's why he chose it. It isn't a nice round number like 10, or a magic number like 3 or 9, or a lucky number like 7. Eight is quite a boring number.

Sometimes boring works.

Holger Rathgeber is 'the modern global manager'. I've never heard of him and so can comment no further.

Due credit must also go to Peter Mueller for the illustrations. I can't help wondering if he is behind a certain famous range of penguin-featuring greetings cards. The style and the humour are very similar.

Then there are, of course...


Yes. Penguins. They are at the heart of the story: for this is a story-book: a fable.

The story centres on an Emperor Penguin colony who live on an iceberg. Their iceberg is melting. This scary fact is discovered by one individual penguin who, not being the sociable type, spends more time than most looking out to sea and wondering about stuff.

He then has to convince the other penguins that he is right, and that they have only limited time to come up with and implement a plan that will save them all from (possibly) being decimated during the coming winter when the iceberg will (probably) break up as a result of the melt/refreeze process or (if they get through that) from facing the slow-melt erosion of their living space. Either way, they're in trouble.


* Fred – a very junior bird, but he ate less and studied the sea more; he spots what's happening but then has to step into the spotlight to sell it and move on up into the control group to do something about it, he has no innate power, and he has seen other would-be pioneers quashed

* The Council – the top 10 penguins – the Exec Team (or whatever your firm calls it!) – some of whom will talk till the cows come home (not that there any cows – this story is in Antarctica) and some of whom will just drift off into their own semi-slumberous world (I'm saying nothing)

* Alice - one of the10 – " tough practical bird with a reputation for getting things done

* Louis – the Head Penguin

* NoNo – say no more

* Buddy – "a quiet and boyishly handsome penguin who everyone seemed to like and trust

* Jordan, "the Professor" – "the closest the Leadership Council had to an intellectual"

And… quite a few others, because that's partly the point.


Fred discovers the problem, wonders what to do with the knowledge, takes it to Alice and between them they manage to convince first the Leadership Council, then the rest of the colony. The rest of the plot is about how the colony responds, how the converted get buy-in from the sceptics, and what happens next.


Lavishly illustrated throughout – well as lavish as you can get with the colour palette available (blue, black, white and yellow) – and with just a touch of Eric-style humour. I defy you not to smile.


The problem with management books is that you read them (if you're sad like me) and they make sense and you learn a bit, but then what? If we're diligent and lucky, maybe we get to shift our personality a millimetre to incorporate some of our newfound common sense, but mostly we just bank it all in that deep vault within our subconscious marked "theory".

This time we were very specifically instructed to take the book away and share it with out teams, to get them to think about the issues raised. To talk about which of the penguins we might be, and who our team members are, and how we capitalise on that.

But then, like I said, we were already using it, already identifying ourselves and our blockers and enablers and starting to ponder what to do differently.


Definitely. It's fun, it's quick to read, and it penetrates the way more academic expositions of the theory simply won't.


Published in hardback (A5 size) by Macmillan

ISBN 978-0-230-01420-6
145 pages (including the credits)

Cover price £10.99 ~ a tad expensive, but one you'll want to keep!


(c) Lesley Mason
hiker @ Ciao.co.uk


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Comments on this review

  • RICHADA published 08/05/2012
    Change management? Maybe a change OF management.....anyone fancy my job then? R. xxx
  • catsholiday published 07/05/2012
    I love the way you have written this . You had me fascinated.
  • mumsymary published 07/05/2012
    sounds interesting
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Product Information : Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions - John Kotter

Manufacturer's product description

This charming story about a penguin colony in Antarctica illustrates key truths about how deal with the issue of change: handle the challenge well and you can prosper greatly; handle it poorly and you put yourself at risk. The penguins are living happily on their iceberg as they have done for many years. Then one curious penguin discovers a potentially devastating problem threatening their home - and pretty much no one listens to him. The characters in this fable are like people we recognise, even ourselves. Their story is one of resistance to change and heroic action, confusion and insight, seemingly intractable obstacles and the most clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. It is a story that is occuring in different forms around us today - but the penguins handle change a great deal better than most of us. Based on John Kotter's pioneering work on how to make smart change happen faster and better, the lessons you can learn from this short and easy-to-read book will serve you well in your job, in your family, and in your community. And these lessons are becoming ever more important as the world around us changes faster and faster.

Product Details

Type: Non-Fiction

Genre: Business & Finance

Title: Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions

Author: John Kotter

Publisher: Pan

Number of Pages: 160

Edition: Hardcover

ISBN: 230014208

EAN: 9780230014206


Listed on Ciao since: 14/09/2007