Our Iceberg Is Melting Book Summary - Our Iceberg Is Melting Book explained in key points
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Our Iceberg Is Melting summary

John Kotter & Holger Rathgeber

Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions

4.4 (259 ratings)
18 mins
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    Our Iceberg Is Melting
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 4

    Face facts quickly.

    No one enjoys hearing that they’re teetering on the edge of disaster. The option between radically overhauling your organization or pressing on with business as usual seems like a no-brainer. But sometimes, leaders find themselves staring catastrophe in the face: a major breakdown of infrastructure; a product line made redundant by the sudden appearance of a new competitor; the realization that the knowledge your company is running on is outdated and irrelevant.

    If you were an emperor penguin living in Antarctica, your version of this scenario would be a little different. It might be something like this:

    Louis the penguin lived on an iceberg which had been his home, and the home of his ancestors, for countless generations. As far as icebergs go, it was exemplary. It had beautiful, towering walls of packed snow that sheltered the colony from winter storms, and seas filled with delicious fish.

    Louis was Head Penguin of the colony. Along with nine other leaders, he managed the wellbeing of his 300-strong flock – everything from squabbles between neighbours to leopard seal threats. He was dedicated to his work, which is why it took him a while to pay proper attention to his fellow leader Alice. Alice kept insisting that Louis invite a random young penguin to give a presentation at the next Council meeting – some doom and gloom story. But Alice was one of those ‘dog with a bone types’ – not that Louis knew much about dogs. So, he relented and invited this young Fred to the meeting.

    Despite his reservations – there was already so much to get through during those meetings – Louis approached Fred’s presentation the way he approached everything: calmly, openly and willing to listen.

    Fred’s presentation shocked him. This observant young bird had discovered a huge hollow inside their iceberg, where the snow had melted away. The sea had filled the hollow, which was a major problem. Winter was two months away; that water would freeze for sure and when it did, the expanding ice inside the iceberg would shatter it to pieces.

    Fred’s presentation was compelling – he’d even made a model of the iceberg, complete with a lift-off lid to show the hollow inside. Some of the other leaders resisted, saying Fred couldn’t prove his theory and claiming he was just fear-mongering. But Alice reminded Louis that the colony would hold him – and all the leaders – accountable if Fred was right. If they did nothing and penguins died when the iceberg broke apart, blood would be on their flippers.  

    Louis saw the sense in this. Even though not all the leaders agreed with him, he decided to call a community meeting, to tell the colony that they had two months to find a solution. Louis knew that to survive this catastrophe, they were going to need as much buy-in and brain-power as possible.

    When he told the colony about their melting iceberg, he didn’t sugar-coat the truth. He put Fred’s iceberg model in a community space where everyone could examine it, and he made a point of listening to the penguins who came to take a look. They shared their fears and worries with him but also their ideas. And Louis knew that among those ideas, there would be a solution.

    When you’re facing your own version of an iceberg, you can’t afford to stick your head in the sand. You need to accept reality quickly, and help your team accept it too. Instilling a sense of urgency will prevent your team from becoming complacent. Having to accept that change is coming is scary, so be present, be available and invite people to engage. 

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    What is Our Iceberg Is Melting about?

    Our Iceberg is Melting  (2005) explores how to effectively lead others through change. Using a fable about a colony of penguins, it identifies a framework leaders can use not only to survive change but to ultimately thrive.

    Who should read Our Iceberg Is Melting?

    • Leaders wanting to build resilient teams
    • Business owners looking to future-proof their companies
    • Employees interested in change management

    About the Author

    John Kotter is a management thought leader, a Harvard Professor and a New York Times best-selling author of twenty books that have been published in over 150 languages. Viewed by many as the authority on leadership and change, his books include Leading Change, A Sense of Urgency and Accelerate.

    Holger Rathgeber is an author and a global manager. Originally from Frankfurt, Germany, he now lives in New York, where he works for Beckton Dickinson – a leading medical technology company. He has co-authored two books with John Kotter: Our Iceberg is Melting and That’s Not How We Do It Here!

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